Experts worried about shrinking labor force in W. Mich.

(File photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In West Michigan and around the country the labor force is dropping, even in the growing economy, which has some employment experts concerned.

Currently in West Michigan there is less than one person for every job opening. Compare that with 2010 when there was seven people for every one job.

“Basically what’s happening right now with employment is there is tremendous amount of growth with jobs and the unemployment is very low, but the labor force continues to decrease so we’re losing people out of the labor force even though there is a tremendous amount of jobs that are available for people to go to work at,” said Janis Petrini, owner of Express Employment Professionals.

>>READ: Research on shrinking labor force (PDF)

It’s a trend that hasn’t been seen since the 1970’s, unemployment going down along with the labor force participation rate.

In West Michigan there is roughly 32,000 open jobs, but only 18,500 people who are claiming unemployment or looking for work — resulting in a 3.3 percent unemployment rate.

“So what you’re seeing is that people have disappeared out of the workforce and so it’s deceiving when you see unemployment truly that’s not really a valid number because there are so many people that aren’t registered into the labor force,” Petrini said.

Petrini said the trend is alarming.

“Growth is going to stall without people to go to work. For the health of our community we need people to work, for the health of Social Security and Medicare we need people to go to work and overall for economic growth we need people to come into the workforce.”

Petrini says there are several reasons for the shrinking labor force. Baby boomers are retiring, younger people are staying in school longer, many learned to live on a shoe-string budget during the recession and just never went back to work and others transitioned from unemployment to collecting disability.

But she believes there is a way to get people back in the workforce.

“I think that we need to obviously offer incentives for people to come back, we need people to know there are a lot of jobs. We need people to know that companies have training programs, apprenticeship programs, opportunities to learn new skills.”

Petrini says right now her company is seeing a huge need in advanced manufacturing, skilled trades and engineering.



Express Employment Professionals

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