Unemployment increases as residents seek jobs

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

There were two competing trends in the job market for October.

According to the state’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, typical seasonal employment changes were recorded as the education sector returned to full staffing and jobs continued to decline in leisure and hospitality services.

However, more individuals broke away from the trend over the past several years by entering the labor market in October in search of jobs.

Because of this, unemployment rates rose moderately in all Southwest Michigan labor markets by an average of four-tenths of a percentage point.

All four Southwest Michigan counties recorded jobless rates below the statewide-unadjusted unemployment rate of 4.6 percent in October.

Allegan County’s unemployment rate – the lowest in the region – rose from 2.9 percent to a 3.2 percent. Berrien County increased its jobless rate from 4 percent to 4.3 percent, and Cass County rose from 3.9 percent in September to 4.3 percent in October.

Van Buren County’s jobless rate rose from 4 percent to 4.4 percent – making it the highest unemployed county in the Southwest Michigan region.

Michigan finished with a 4.6 percent unemployment rate in October (a 0.2 percent increase), while the U.S. produced a 4.7 percent jobless rate (a 0.1 percent decrease overall).

A look at Berrien jobs

Berrien County saw a decrease of 600 non-farm payroll jobs in October, mostly in leisure and hospitality and manufacturing.

The area gained only 100 jobs in private education and health services. Jobs in all other sectors remained flat. Total non-farm payroll employment in October was about 63,200.

Since October of last year, leisure and hospitality added 400 positions and a 200 job improvement was recorded in trade, transportation, warehousing, and utilities, and in leisure and hospitality.

However, employment in professional and business services declined over the year. Total non-farm payroll employment in Berrien County was 200 above October 2015 levels. The current October payroll jobs were still 5.9 percent below the pre-recessionary 2007 level.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 4, 2016)

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Legislators visit St. Clair County Community College to talk jobs, economy

By Tony Wittkowski | Local Government Reporter | The Times Herald

For more than an hour in the Fine Arts Theatre, St. Clair County Community College students and faculty members had direct access to the politicians who represent them.

SC4’s Marketing and Management student club brought several legislators to campus Monday night for a discussion on topics from Michigan’s job outlook to road repairs.

Lansing representatives included Rep. Dan Lauwers, Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, Rep. Paul Muxlow, Sen. Phil Pavlov and Mike Brownfield — deputy director of strategy, executive office of Gov. Rick Snyder.

Dan McCarty, professor of business administration at SC4, served as the moderator of the event. The main thing he took away from the night was the quality of questions.

“I was proud of the community,” McCarty said. “They asked tough questions — no softball questions — but they asked them politely and respectively. I thought we got real honest responses.”

Joe LaFontaine, president of the student club, asked his cousin Andrea to speak on campus — then the idea grew.

He said he had no idea the event would attract a turnout that would fill half the theater.

“I brought up the idea of possibly having someone who is young and speak on issues in the community,” Joe said. “From there we said, ‘Why don’t we just ask all the people who represent our area?’”

Legislators spoke at great length on what jobs were available and what industries needed more workers, which include skilled trade jobs from technicians to manufacturers.

“By making Michigan a more secure place to visit, it opens up all employment opportunities,” Pavlov said. “We have a lost generation of those particular trades where you need more than a high school education. We have seen a deficit of the people who need a two-year education for skilled trade.”

One of the surprise topics discussed was concealed pistol licenses and the “safe zones” that overrule them.

Lauwers, who told listeners he has a CPL, said schools are considered gun-free zones and will probably continue to because of the recent school shootings.

“It’s a hot topic. I’m a concealed carrier, but I can’t conceal one right now on your campus,” he said. “We all know there have been mass shootings in schools, so when you talk about more guns in school, people get nervous.”

Brownfield talked about the 5.9 percent unemployment rate — the lowest in Michigan since 2001.

“A year ago it was at 7.8 percent. Jobs are being created,” he said. “We are doing well in health care, construction and the manufacturing industry.”

For some of the questions legislators received, there were no easy answers.

While the panel of politicians agreed it was essential to repair Michigan’s roads, no one could say how much Proposal 1 would cost the average family.

“It is a complicated matter,” Brownfield said. “It’s based on the wholesale cost of gasoline. If we don’t do this right now, the long-term cost will be much higher.”

Afterward, LaFontaine said she was prepared for a lot of the questions since she receives a lot of them during her regular office hours.

“The questions were tough, but that’s to be expected,” she said. “Tough questions means we have an engaged audience.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at (810) 989-6270 or twittkowsk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 30, 2015)

President Obama: Higher education, raising minimum wage among top priorities

President Barack Obama speaks to the media after Friday's sequester meeting at the White House. March 1, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

President Barack Obama speaks to the media after Friday’s sequester meeting at the White House. March 1, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

By Tony Wittkowski | Senior Reporter | Central Michigan Life

President Barack Obama made it clear that taking drastic cuts to higher education to prevent cuts in defense spending would be a mistake in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

Obama proposed working with states to hold colleges and universities accountable in keeping tuition rates down.

“Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do,” Obama said. “Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid.”

In addition, it was announced the Obama administration would release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools in order to get a better bang for their “educational buck.

He also made investment in preschool and elementary school a priority.

“In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job and form more stable families of their own,” Obama said.

David Jesuit, a professor in Political Science at CMU, said any policy that pits science, technology, math and science against other areas of study is a bad one.

“We need to invest more in education at all levels and in all disciplines,” Jesuit said.

The president pointed to other countries’ focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of America’s community colleges.

“Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job,” Obama said.

Obama also proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 from $7.25.

“Here’s an idea that Gov. (Mitt) Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on,” Obama said.

Two months after the Newtown shooting, the president made a plea to Congress for stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Obama closed his address by paying homage to the victims of gun violence.

Jesuit said the closing of the speech was more emotional than most State of the Union speeches and that the president did a good job detailing his agenda.

“It is hard to determine what the single most important issue (was) from the president’s perspective,” Jesuit said. “Nonetheless, I would order his priorities as the economy, immigration and gun control.”

Obama suggested Congress should overhaul immigration laws and tackle climate change.

Though Obama devoted less time to foreign policy than in past years, he announced 34,000 American troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan over the next year, putting the U.S. on pace for its 2014 withdrawal deadline.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 12, 2014)

Freshmen see 20 percent increase in Pell grants compared to last year

By Tony Wittkowski | Staff Reporter | Central Michigan Life

This year, a record number of grants were awarded to incoming freshmen at Central Michigan University to compensate for a lack of assistance from the state.

“We increased the amount of grant assistance to freshmen,” said Diane Fleming, associate director of scholarships and financial aid. “Based on academic qualifications for grants.”

The number of Pell grants has increased 20 percent this year, compared to last year.

“The university has put more money into financial aid because of the lack of state assistance,” Fleming said. “The economy is another reason why CMU needed to provide more assistance as well.”

Fleming said the decision about financial aid increase is made at the level of the board of trustees.

“They determine if there’s going to be additional grant assistance,” Fleming said. “But it’s too early to tell if there will be more financial aid this year.”

Saginaw sophomore Hannah Carter is a transfer student from Delta College, and was happy to receive financial aid at CMU.

“I was surprised I even got any even though I was late to apply,” Carter said. “Although I’m not one of those students who couldn’t come without it.”

Carter said how the additional financial aid has helped the burden of payment with her parents.

“It is also helping my parents when it comes to tuition,” Carter said. “I don’t feel as guilty.”

Carly Claus, a Rogers City junior has had a scholarship and financial aid for all three years at CMU and has been very thankful for it.

“It helps a lot of the time I’m here,” Claus said. “I haven’t had to get a job because of it.”

Claus’ scholarship offered her $4,000 a year for four years if she kept her grade point average up along with two years of living in the dorms.

“I think now with the increase of financial aid, it will open a few doors for incoming freshman,” Claus said.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 29, 2011)