With much talk about Michigan as a “comeback state,’’ it’s important to delve a little deeper to answer the question – a comeback state, for whom?
It’s certainly not a comeback state for Lori, an older worker with a part-time retail job in the Lansing area. Like many others, she struggles with an income that barely covers the bills.
According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, inflation-adjusted income in Michigan doubled for those at the very top – the top 1% — while falling a bit for the rest of us between 1979 and 2007.
Even with the recovery from the Great Recession, EPI finds that between 2009 and 2011, more than 90% of economic growth was captured by the top 1% in Michigan.
Lori is definitely among the 99%. Although she’s a college graduate, she’s been unsuccessful in finding full-time work.
“I’ve been looking for full-time for forever,” she says. “It’s awful. No one wants to give you more than 30 hours.”
Lori worked both full-time and part-time jobs while raising her children. She’s now single and, since 2007, she has worked part time as a sales associate in retail.
Like most other retail work, the wages are nearly impossible to live off. In fact, retail sales is one of the 10 occupations in Michigan with the largest number of workers, yet the median wage does not lift a family of four out of poverty.
As if being unable to save for retirement or emergencies isn’t stressful enough, the threat of foreclosure also hangs over Lori’s head. If it was not for her income tax refund, she said she would probably lose her house altogether.
When asked about what kind of position she would like to have if given the choice, she replied: “It is so beyond caring whether I enjoy it or not. All I care about is making enough money to survive.”
Lori’s story is not unlike many others in this state. A lack of stable employment and secure wages keeps so many teetering on the brink of survival, while a small number of others experience the positive side of the growing income inequality gap.
When it comes to natural beauty, we certainly are a land of plenty. Hopefully one day we can say that about the economy too. Until this lopsided Michigan economy is not so lopsided, “comeback” is the wrong word to use in representing 10 million people.
– Meghan Muffett, communications intern