Life for the unemployed got tougher last fall, when governor Rick Snyder signed legislation cutting the length of time they can collect unemployment benefits from twenty-six to twenty weeks. Between shorter eligibility and longer job searches, "every month about 800 people will lose their benefits because they're exhausting the time limit," says Mary Jo Callan, the community services director for Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.
At a maximum of $362 a week, it's not like unemployment pays well. "It's meant to supplement no wages or very low wages with cash assistance until they find a new job," says Callan. That's harder than it used to be. "More than 50 percent of Michigan's unemployed have been unemployed for more than six months. This is the longest [job hunt] on record."
Denig puts that in perspective: "What used to be a six-week norm for someone to find new employment four or five years ago has stretched out from three months to six months, then from six to twelve months, and now it often takes longer than a year."