By TRENTON JOHNSON
Capital News Service
LANSING—While the economy remains in a downward spiral, many employed workers and their families are struggling to make ends meet and are seeking help from organizations and agencies.
This problem is occurring throughout Michigan, including the northern Lower Peninsula, experts say.
Why are employed families struggling like unemployed families?
Sharon Parks, president of the Michigan League for Human Services, said, “There is a ripple effect from the auto industry which is displacing blue-collar and white-collar workers.”
The league is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that Michigan’s low-income residents achieve economic security.
Parks said some families are making it on one spouse’s salary or getting unemployment benefits, and some laid-off workers found jobs that don’t pay as well as the ones they lost.
Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the rate of unemployment for Emmet County jumped from 13.7 percent in the second quarter of 2009 to 15.3 for the same period this year. In Wexford County, it inched up from 16.7 in 2009 to 16.9. In Alpena County, it rose slightly from 13.6 to 13.8. In Grand Traverse County, it grew from 11.6 to 12.4.
Judy Putnam, communications director for the league, said, “Oakland County used to be one of the richest counties in the country and now they’re having trouble as well.”
Oakland County, with an unemployment rate of 12.5 percent for that period in 2009, had a rate of 12.9 this year.
In many cases, Parks said, families that lose jobs also lose health benefits and must pay for health care or health insurance out of pocket.
Parks said families apply for Medicaid as the next step.
And many of available jobs don’t pay enough to keep a family out of poverty, she said.
Help is offered to struggling employed families at service centers across Michigan, including Traverse City and Petoskey.
Kristy Pescoe, resource center assistant at the Traverse City center, said, “The service centers help people look for employment by helping them get jobs that they want.”
Pescoe said workshops cover financial aid, career advising, job seeking, effective communication, conflict management, resume writing and interviewing.
Pescoe said each service center offers something different. For example, Petoskey and Traverse City hold many of the same workshops, but Traverse City also offers workshops on professionalism and ethics and business start-up and Petoskey offers one on leadership.
Also available through the centers is the No Worker Left Behind program, which provides up to two years of free tuition in a high-demand or emerging industries at any Michigan university, community college and a number of training programs.
Eligible individuals must be unemployed, have received a notice of layoff or termination from their employer or are employed but with a family income no higher than $40,000 a year.
Pescoe of the Traverse City center said the state is working to improve adult learning for these families.
Pescoe said they include strategies for increasing basic skills, building clear connections between learning and the promise of good jobs, making it easier for adults to reach their goals and increasing the availability of adult learning.
Pescoe said each county belongs to a regional partnership whose members cooperate to make occupational and basic skill training more accessible to workers with low skills.