March 18 • 10:10 PM

Going up...

Stats for Lapeer and St. Clair counties reflect economic woes felt across state

October 21, 2009
TRI-CITY AREA — What a difference a year makes—especially when it's one of the toughest economic years in most people's memory.

As may be expected, the difference is not good. Unemployment jumped more than eight percentage points in St. Clair County from this time last year, with the figure rising some 7.8 percent in Lapeer County according to the Michigan League for Human Services Economic Security Bulletin released last week.

Issued quarterly, the MLHS bulletin reports on unemployment, food and cash assistance and Medicaid caseloads tracked on a county-by-county basis.

According to the report, the number of families receiving monthly cash assistance has increased by just one in Lapeer County and has actually decreased by almost 200 in St. Clair County from last year's reporting date.

"Michigan counties were nearly split in whether they increased or decreased their FIP cash assistance cases since second quarter 2008," says the report. "However, the state as a whole saw a slight decrease in that time, which is ironic when Michigan is in one of its worst recessions and leads the nation in unemployment."

A contributing factor, according to the report, is that the program is not responsive to need because it helps only the extremely poverty stricken.

"(A) family must be 44 percent below the federal poverty line to qualify," the report states.

The number of families in need of food assistance, however, continues to rise as the economy dips. According to the bulletin, 3,283 Lapeer County households received monthly food assistance at the end of the second quarter of 2008. This year, 4,154 families take part in the program—an increase of 26.5 percent. A similar increase is reflected in St. Clair County. In 2008, 10,005 households received monthly food assistance with the figure rising to 12,380 in 2009.

These trends may reflect U.S. Census Bureau statistics, including the most recent income-related figures for the state. According to the Census Bureau, the average income per household in Michigan fell below the national average last year. In 2008, Michigan's median income was $48,591 per household compared to an average of $52,029 across the United States.

As jobs fall by the wayside and income slips, so does employer-sponsored health insurance. Census Bureau figures reflect that 833,000 Michigan residents have lost employer-sponsored health care coverage since the year 2000.

Is this a reflection of job loss in the state? Perhaps. According to the MLHS Economic Security Bulletin, employment trends in Michigan reflect negative numbers across the board— from Industry to Manufacturing to Retail, Financial, Professional and Business Services.

The only growth area is in the Health Care and Social Assistance sectors, including an increase in state and local government hospitals and hospital services.

"Workers in this state are hurting, and it is crucial that Michigan enact unemployment insurance (UI) reform, as many states have already done," the report states. "This will not only extend benefits to more workers, but allow Michigan to draw down more federal money to fund its UI system."

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