DETROIT - Three real-life stories that illustrate how horrific Michigan's economy is.
I met a man from Allen Park, MI who worked at U.S. Steel for decades. Prior to that he worked at GM.
He was laid off in December for a few weeks. Now that's stretched into months and may soon be permanent. His health insurance is covered - for now. But after one-year off work he'll have to start paying COBRA, about $450-a-month. He has no idea how he'll afford that and his wife has serious health problems.
He has a commercial driver's license and is looking for work driving a truck but he has no experience and no one is hiring. He is in danger of losing his home and he is in his mid-50s and has no idea how he can start all over again at that age. Many of his friends and relatives have similar problems, so if misery loves company, Michigan is the place to be.
I went to my niece's graduation ceremony at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids yesterday. The commencement speaker, a former chair of the board of trustees, seems like a nice lady. But her speech left the audience, and worse still, the graduates, in a less-than-celebratory mood.
Many of you, she told the graduates, will have to leave Michigan to get jobs. Others who elect to stay will likely not find jobs in their chosen careers. They'll have to settle, she said, for jobs for which they are overqualified.
It's not the dose of reality you expect to hear at a graduation ceremony. Some of the parents grumbled that they were being told, in essence, that they wasted their hard earned money to put their children through college for degrees that won't help them as they begin life in the job market. Graduates found the speech to be a downer too. "I can always get a job as a baby sitter," my just-graduated niece quipped.
A woman I met at the graduation owns, along with her husband, a computer-related business, providing inventory software to retail stores. But none of the stores even want to talk to her, much less buy. And the number of stores still in business is dwindling.
They were up to 30 employees at one time. They've been forced to lay off two-thirds of their staff. It broke her heart, she told me, because the employees were like family to her. The one with the least seniority had been with the company for 10 years.
They're just keeping the company open so they don't have to lay off the 10 remaining workers. But she's not taking a draw most weeks. Her story is similar to those I've heard from other small business owners here. They are staying open not because they are making a profit - they aren't. But to keep some cash flow and to pay their employees in the hopes that the economy will recover before they have to shutter their doors.
Their employees, they tell me, are still getting pay checks, but they are not, at least not on a regular basis. One small business owner hasn't taken money home in a year. He and his wife are living off her pension and their savings.
Welcome to the realities of Michigan.
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