The headlines can be troubling at times for Michiganders. Michigan Radio reported in late August that “Michigan could already be in the early stages of a recession.” According to CNBC in mid-September, the “UAW strike threatens Michigan’s economy, could push state into recession, Moody’s and Lending Tree say.” Bloomberg stated last month that “Key election battleground Michigan is at risk of recession.”
No one knows, including the economists, when Michigan will slide into the next recession. When we do, and we certainly will at some time, most economists that I have read seem to think the next downturn will not be as dramatic as the last. But they don’t really know. Their economic models may or may not hold true.
What we do know is this. While Michigan’s unemployment rate has come down dramatically since the dark days of 2008-2009, Michigan still has an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent which is higher than the national average of 3.5 percent, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, Michigan’s unemployment rate is 41st in the country and tied for worst with Ohio of the eight Great Lakes States. (Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin have unemployment rates of 3.2 percent, lower than the national average.)
Per the Census Bureau, Michigan’s median household income of $52,668 is 34th in the nation. Some of us old enough can remember a time when Michigan’s median household income was much better than the nation as a whole. We do just beat out our neighbors to the south, Ohio and Indiana, but just barely. I guess the good news is that our poverty rate of 11 percent, per Census, is 23rd in the nation and better than Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio.
Hopefully, the economists are all wrong and Michigan’s economy will surge ahead instead of falling further behind as it has the last 30-40 years. But I am one that believes in preparing for a rainy day. Is Michigan’s social safety net ready for the next recession when it comes? In my estimation, a social safety net consists of support from individuals, churches, non-profits and governments at all levels. A few years ago, Michigan’s Legislature reduced the number of weeks of unemployment from twenty-six weeks to twenty. Michigan’s unemployment amount is capped at $362 per week and twenty weeks of $362 or $7,240 won’t go very far.
In the next recession, who will folks who may fall on hard times turn to? Churches and non-profits serve some of the “least of these” in our community. Kudos to the many churches that fund food pantries or offer regular meals for the poor and working poor. But if their budgets are stretched during the “good times,” what will happen during a downturn?
There are several non-profits in our area that work to help the less fortunate. (And for the record, I serve on the board or have volunteered or donated to all of the following.)
Emergency Shelter Services (ESS) of Benton Harbor operates a homeless shelter in the city for women and children. Currently, the shelter is normally filled to its capacity and has a waiting list of those in need of a roof over their heads. Perhaps more important, a branch of ESS, The Connection, seeks to prevent homelessness by offering assistance, when it can, to families at risk of eviction or utility shutoff.
In addition to ESS, I admire the work of the Avenue and its Cora Lamping Center which serves women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. The Center also hosts a 24-hour hotline for those families who may be in crisis.
Locally, the Salvation Army hosts the only men’s shelter in the area. The Soup Kitchen is in the same facility as the Salvation Army, the old YMCA building. Dozens of church volunteers and other groups in the area serve a nutritious lunch 365 days a year to men from the Salvation Army and their neighbors – men, women, and some children who live nearby.
My point is this. Especially if your own economic situation is better than most, be thankful now and this coming holiday season for those blessings. And if you can, be mindful and generous this year with your donations to churches and non-profits making a difference in helping the less fortunate.
Please start today by Googling the few I have mentioned for more information on the good works they do in our community.
Robert L. Burgess, a Michigan native, has lived in Lincoln Township since 1993. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.