Holiday travel is expected to be up, Michigan’s unemployment rate is down to 9.1 percent, tourism in northwest Lower Michigan set a record in 2012 (with 1.43 million people visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes through the first of October) and the economy is generally improving.
But the ghost of the Great Recession is still with us, with a vengeance, and millions of Michigan residents are facing a grim Christmas.
According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, nearly 1.7 million Michigan residents, or one in every five, are living in poverty — which means $18,000 a year or less for a family of three and $23,000 a year or less for a family of four. For a family of four, that’s less than $450 a week, a sum that can hardly pay the rent in most places.
Michigan’s poverty rate grew by 66 percent over the past decade, the fastest in the nation. And it’s worse for children. A report by the League says one in every four children — 24.8 percent — is living in poverty. Since 2007, the start of the Great Recession, married-couple families experienced a 50 percent jump in poverty and more households are making less than $35,000.
Unemployment, fueled in large part by the collapse of the auto industry, is down but the raw numbers are still scary — more than 400,000 workers remain unemployed.
The state Legislature is adding to the pressure. It has called for a 60-month time limit on cash assistance, counting all months since 1996. Lawmakers have also decided to reduce the traditional period of unemployment from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.
There must be more to this equation than that. Just as the state invests in business it must also invest in families and individuals. Job training programs and hiring incentives are dual investments; helping maintain a workforce to fill all those jobs the private sector has promised is a long-term strategy.
The Legislature recently voted to repeal the personal property tax, which applies to manufacturing and other equipment used by businesses, over the next 10 years, at a cost to local communities of $600 million.
So far, there is no corresponding investment in people, which must be an equal part of the equation.
This is going to be a tough holiday season for a lot of people; while perhaps not as obvious as a couple years ago, the hangover from the recession is still with us.
If things are better for you this year, think about sharing some of that good fortune.
— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE