Unemployment in Ottawa county drops significantly


Courtesy / WZZM 13

Zsolt Palmer

The state of Michigan’s unemployment numbers can fluctuate for a variety of reasons as the economy expands and contracts, but the events of the past year have proven to have a particularly unique effect on unemployment in the state, as well as Ottawa county.

When the pandemic-related closures began last year, unemployment spiked up to a peak of 20.4% in Ottawa county. By comparison, during the great recession of 2008, the highest unemployment figures for Ottawa County were 13.4%. While the 2008 numbers were also in the double digits, the extraordinary effects of the pandemic pushed the figures to new heights.

“With the lockdowns last year, industry jobs dropped, particularly in the leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors, which are some of the larger employers in Ottawa county,” said GVSU economics professor Sonia Dalmia. 

A year after the pandemic started, the State of Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management, and Budget’s latest economic report indicates that unemployment this February was at 4.2%, a marked improvement from the previous year’s numbers.

This is in contrast to some other parts of the state. Most other counties in Michigan have around 5-7% unemployment, with Mackinac County’s unemployment up at 17.5%. As a whole, Ottawa County is ranked fifth-best in the state for unemployment numbers as of February, right behind Clinton County.

“Part of the reason Ottawa is doing better than most counties is because West Michigan’s economy is currently better than other parts of the state,” said GVSU economics professor Paul Sicilian. “It’s the same for much of the area, so Ottawa has rebounded nicely. But it isn’t all good news.”

Despite the sharp decrease in unemployment from the highs of last year, this statistic does not paint a complete picture of the situation. Unemployment figures only count members of the population who are searching for work and cannot find one, thus this number does not include members of the public who are not currently looking for a job.

“The employment rate is still lower, even though the unemployment rate has changed,” Sicilian said. “Depending on where you look, there’s a huge improvement in the unemployment numbers, but this hides the fact that some people left the labor force and have not gone back. And this has affected different groups in different ways. Last year, the labor force participation rate for women was 57.8&, but by April of that same year it was down to 54.6%, a drop of over three percentage points, and those numbers have not yet recovered.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, Michigan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell sharply in January 2021 to 5.7%. This rate drop was largely due to significant monthly labor force withdrawal, as employment edged up only marginally over the same month. 

Overall, as more vaccines are rolled out, and more people return to work, the economy is expected to continue its recovery. What remains less clear is how effective the recovery will be, and if, or when, it will return to the levels it was at last year’s pre-pandemic levels.