Sunday, September 25, 2011

As Unemployment Climbs Again, Michigan's Assistance Programs are Eviscerated

It's a beautiful day. Little drizzly, little overcast, slight fog, but warm. It's a lazy, relaxing early autumn. There's a cricket chirping outside the open window.

It's the time of year again when I get to feel sanctimonious about the deals I get on apples at the farmer's market. Yesterday I picked up a half bushel of macintosh apples for $6 - crisp and sweet with a little tart. I tend to go for the apple seconds with minor blemishes. Dark spots.

I should not be looking at unemployment figures today.

Non-farm jobs in Muskegon are at the same levels they were at in 1995 -- 16 years ago. U3 unemployment is Muskegon is back to the 12% range again. I was feeling pretty good earlier this year and late last year. We were backing away from the near 16% unemployment mark we were at in January 2010. In April 2011, at 10.1% unemployment, it looked like we might actually drop below double digit unemployment for the first time in 30 months.

Now we're on to month 34, and seeing a rise in the unemployment level again.

Except now, instead of seeing more help for those struggling to get by, we're seeing Lansing and DC stripping help for people. Michigan's unemployment benefits have been slashed from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, even as people are well into their third year of unemployment. The State level heating assistance fund for individuals is nearly empty and the state has not moved to fund it.

A pittance of cash assistance for those most in need has been retroactively slashed to 48 months, leaving 11,000 of Michigan's poorest citizens without a means to get by with necessities like housing, clothing, utilities, toiletries starting within the week.

And even as food banks are running empty, the state of Michigan is making food assistance more restrictive and raising the eligibility standards.

Michigan has slashed child tax credits for families, removed primary residence tax credits that benefitted the middle class, and are now taxing pensions for those who held up their part of the worker contract.

As our economy moves in the wrong direction, our programs to help low income people and the rising number of people dropping out of the Middle Class do too.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest businesses continue to see their taxes cut...and as most of the housing market tanks, luxury housing sales continue to climb.

This time, 15% unemployment is going to hurt a lot more.

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