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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.