Michigan’s Shaky Reopening
July 29, 2020
Michigan’s economy and workforce were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and government-ordered shutdown.. You could argue that the Wolverine state’s coronavirus recession is the worst in the nation, with over a million jobs lost in the first month of the shutdown.
But more recent job reports suggest Michigan is also among the leaders in COVID recovery! You might be surprised by that fact because reopening hasn't been going smoothly due to the rise in new infections.
The most recent survey by the website WalletHub.com found Michigan ranked #1 in the U.S. for re-employment following job losses in March and April. The state’s own Bureau of Labor Market Information reported last week (July 23) that regional jobless rates declined big time in June, especially in manufacturing, leisure, and hospitality, all of which are key to Michigan jobs.
Manufacturing added 86,000 jobs in June, the bureau said, while 64,000 jobs in restaurant and tourism-related industry came back. That’s not quite pre-COVID levels but it's a good sign for our paychecks. But uncertainty caused by the pandemic will weigh heavily on those working in the frontlines.
Jim Hilton is a manager at Art’s Tavern in Glen Arbor, a northwest lower Michigan tourist destination that was hard hit by the pandemic. Art’s tried to manage with carry-out only after the ban on sit down dining, but he had to shut that down for two weeks “because we didn’t know what we were doing,” Hilton said. Then he re-launched and transitioned to half-capacity, in-house drinking and dining when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave the go ahead.
The whole experience has been “just really weird,” he said. The area, also home to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is once again crawling with visitors, Hilton said. Unfortunately, limits on capacity mean that Art’s and other local establishments often have long wait times to seat customers.
At the same time, Art’s has struggled to find staff even at reduced employment levels, Hilton said.
“It’s just so different” from a normal summer, he said. “All things considered, it has gone pretty well. But I think all we really want to do is survive this year.”
Over at the Dunes Lakeshore, sections of the park remain off limits, exhibits are closed and ferries to off-shore islands cancelled for the summer. But both of the spacious, park service campgrounds at Sleeping Bear “are jam packed,” according to a lakeshore employee.
In the big picture, Michiganders and their economy are still facing headwinds. The state’s current unemployment rate (14.8%) is among the highest in the nation, the Detroit Free Press reports, only a hair lower than it was at the height of the 2008-09 recession.
Much depends on whether the recovery can be sustained. And that depends, of course, on whether the pandemic is contained and public confidence in normal life restored.
The answer to those questions, like almost everything else COVID-related, is - Who knows?