By Bill Diem

Michigan’s job picture right now is the best it has been in the 21st Century, yet I hear people all the time saying that jobs are not being filled because people don’t want to work ever since they got free money during COVID. I think that anyone who wants a job can find one. Life is hard enough in our poor rural Upper Peninsula that working-age people are always working, or moving out.

We visited a friend in Menominee County earlier this summer. Pat is 83. She told us about growing up on her grandparents’ homestead there, milking cows by hand, doing all the chores that a farm girl had to do, walking miles to and from school. When she graduated high school and moved down to Milwaukee to find work, she was hired right away.

“They said if you are from the Upper Peninsula, you know how to work,” she told us.

I don’t have to listen hard to hear anecdotes about workers who won’t work. Some of them were fired, others hold on because the owners can’t find anyone better. And while I know that some people are like that, I think the broad, real picture is that working age people are working.

On Sidewalk Sale day in Curtis on August 2, I was chatting with the people who run the hardware store as they offered free brats and hot dogs to customers. The boss said they have no problem finding good workers. My grandson in Marquette has worked at one of the Marquette McDonald’s since graduating a few years ago. He says that all of his friends have jobs.

There are always jobs advertised in the Newberry News. Sometimes you have to have a certain education, like being a nurse, and sometimes you don’t. Dollar stores almost always have a “help wanted” sign in the window. The Newberry schools are looking for a custodian and food service workers. Portage Township wants a facilities and grounds caretaker. There are jobs that need filling, and there is a lack of people to fill them, but mainly because there is a lack of potential employees.

One problem is that pay levels are not always attractive locally. The school jobs pay less than $13 an hour, while McDonalds in St. Ignace pays $18 an hour.

Even when the pay is good, there are disadvantages to living in the Tahquamenon area. Newberry’s high-tech employer, Northern Wings, has a problem like that of the hospital. Most of its workers need skills that require more education and experience. The company is expanding and hiring people, but some new employees find Luce County too rural, and they leave. For this kind of job, employers need to find workers who like to spend their off-hours in the woods or water when they aren’t doctoring or making parts for spacecraft.

The 3.6% unemployment rate in Michigan is the best it has been for 23 years, according to Shibani Putatunda, economic specialist for the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics. Oakland and Livingston Counties have led the state to where it has caught up with the national 3.6% unemployment rate this year.

Around here, Mackinac County is tied for third best in Michigan, at 3.5%. Many summers, Mackinac has been the leader thanks to the massive tourism hiring in St. Ignace and Mackinac Island. Luce County was at 6.2% in June, and Chippewa 5.8%, and these are good figures historically.