After cresting at a painful 10.1 percent in October 2009, the nation's unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent in December. The state hit an agonizing 14.1 percent in August 2009 before improving to 9.3 percent. Even in sheltered Washtenaw County, unemployment peaked at 9.4 percent in July 2010--then dropped to just 5.5 percent in December.
Welcome as the recovery is, unemployment is still more than twice the record low back in 1999. That 5.5 percent is made up of 9,900 local folks who are still out of work, many of them for a year or more.
"I believe the jobs are there," says Priscilla Gillespie, who lost hers as a medical associate in 2008. "It's a matter of them actually hiring. Every now and then I get a call for an interview, and I go, and my references are good and my attitude is good, but I don't get the job. And then I see the same job being advertised again."
Life got tougher for the jobless 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. "More than 50 percent of Michigan's unemployed have been unemployed for more than six months. This is the longest on record."