Michigan jobless rate hits '08 level; companies say they're ready to hire
Apr 19, 2012 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The good economic news has been stacking up for Michigan.
On Wednesday, the state reported that the unemployment rate fell to 8.5% for March, a level not seen since August 2008 and down 2 percentage points from a year ago.
The jobless rate in metro Detroit fell to 9.4%, down 2.3 percentage points from a year ago.
"It's going in the right direction," said Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica Bank.
And a PNC Bank survey of small companies in Michigan found that 35% plan to hire full-time or part-time employees sometime in the next six months.
But companies also reported that they expect to seek higher-skilled employees than in the past, which could be a problem with the auto industry already unable to fill a growing number of technical jobs because of a lack of qualified workers.
Still, worker rolls have increased across various industries, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting 22,000 more workers in southeast Michigan this year than last year.
"The strength in the auto industry is starting to translate into strength in other parts of the Michigan economy," Dye said.
That increase in workers is partly responsible for a first-quarter, 47% increase in housing starts in southeast Michigan when compared with the same three months last year, according to Clarkston-based Housing Consultants.
The raw numbers are modest -- 741 single-family new home starts from January to March -- but experts said it's another sign of a recovery gathering momentum.
Earlier this month, University of Michigan economist George Fulton raised his forecast for employment growth in the state from 31,800 jobs to 54,300.
Many areas are hiring
Once the highest in the nation, Michigan's jobless rate is now just slightly above the national number, which stood at 8.2% in March.
The number of jobless Michigan residents, now hovering at about 397,000 people, has been slowly but steadily declining since the state unemployment rate peaked at 14.2% in August 2009.
The rebound has been driven by the resurgence of the Detroit automakers and their suppliers, who have been hiring as the industry benefits from stronger-than-expected vehicle sales.
Since March 2011, nonfarm payroll jobs in the state have increased by 57,000, or 1.4%, with nearly all of the hiring occurring in manufacturing, professional and business services and education and health services. The manufacturing sector accounted for 30,000 of these jobs.
Employment fell in just two sectors, the retail industry and government.
The state's labor force, while still smaller than a year ago, has been expanding in the last three months.
Jobs harder to land
Despite the lower jobless rate, Bruce Weaver, a labor analyst at the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget, cautioned that job seekers may not find it any easier to get hired.
"The pace of layoff activity has slowed dramatically," he said. "But there's still a significant amount of competition for jobs."
The jobs figures coincided with an exclusive look by the Free Press at PNC's first Economic Outlook Survey for Michigan.
The survey, which was conducted by Artemis Strategy Group from Jan. 25 to March 12, shows that Michigan's small companies report they are increasingly willing to add to their payrolls in the coming months. But nearly four of 10 business owners said their requirements for employees' skills and background are higher than in the recent past.
The employers' top three priorities: computer/technical abilities, experience in a specific field and communications skills.
The survey also revealed that about 17% of Michigan's small- and midsize business owners plan to hire full-time employees in the next six months. About 18% plan to hire part-time workers, and 9% of Michigan business owners plan to reduce their full-time staff.
Kurt Rankin, economist for the PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, said that the early surge in hiring this year should level off as the economy works to right itself and grow.
He said payrolls have already been rebuilt during the recovery in the auto industry. "Expecting even more hiring over the next six months would be pushing it a bit," he said.
Contact Katherine Yung: 313-222-8763 or email@example.com
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