Unemployment in Hillsdale County has dropped to 9.5 percent from 12.1 percent at the close of 2010, according to the latest report from the South Central Michigan Works database. This follows the national trend of unemployment, which has dropped to 8.3 percent from 9.1 percent in 2010.
The data, however, may not portray an accurate picture of the job market in the Hillsdale area.
Two services that deal with unemployment here are the Community Action Agency and South Central Michigan Works. South Central Michigan Works collects unemployment data on the Hillsdale and Jonesville areas and helps the unemployed find jobs, and the CAA works to promote self-sufficiency among low-income or unemployed residents of the Hillsdale County area.
Maxine Vanlerberg, director of CAA, said that unemployment statistics can be “a little bit fictitious,” since they do not keep track of unemployed people who have given up looking for work. Those who have been “on and off work” long enough simply drop off the record, making the statistics look overly optimistic.
The CAA has seen an increase in the number of low-income and unemployed clients coming through their doors seeking help with childcare, employment guidance, and tax assistance.
“I would say that we are serving about two times the number of clients as five years ago,” Vanlerberg said.
She said that one of the main reasons for this is underemployment, which remains a significant problem for those who have found a job.
“A lot of [people we see] had a really high-paying job, and are now getting maybe half of what they were being paid. They are way underemployed,” Vanlerberg said.
In fact, a 2011 survey shows that nearly 13 percent of their clients are underemployed, meaning they have a job, but are seeking more work.
Dan Collins, a Hillsdale resident, has been unemployed for a year. Finding a job in the area?
“Right now, it’s hard,” Collins said. His wife, Sheila Collins, is underemployed. She has tired of doing temp jobs, and said that for stability, even a steady factory job would do.
“I just want a permanent job,” she said.
When their children were growing up, the Collins did face unemployment, and they reminisce about the days when Hillsdale was in “full bloom,” before factories began closing.
“Back then,” said Dan Collins, “shops were opening right and left. Now they are closing right and left.”
Getting up in the morning without work is hard, he said.
“You worry about your bills, you worry about how to feed your family,” Dan said.
The job situation sent them packing to Florida once, where they spent six months looking for work. They returned for family reasons, as Sheila missed her grandchildren.
“I was so depressed,” she said.
The Collins looked at each other and laughed.
“We are getting too old for this,” she said. “We are pushing 55.” When asked what keeps them going every day, Sheila answered, “Prayer. Trying to keep faith. Keeping each other.”
Anthony Ruden is also unemployed and has turned in more than 50 copies of his resume to employers, but with no response. Employers “just aren’t looking,” Ruden said, adding that the Michigan economy is not good.
“It’s not easy,” Ruden said, “You gotta fight for your work.”
Once, Ruden went to Fort Smith, Ark., where he found work driving a semi-truck. He came back to be with his family.
“My family is my thing,” Ruden said.
While the data might show a drop in unemployment across the nation and in Hillsdale County, residents are still suffering from a stagnant job market. The trends may show that people are giving up looking.