LANSING — In recent years, Ottawa County has been known for having one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state.
COVID-19 has changed that.
Unemployment rates released last week by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget showed an unprecedented increase of 18.8 percent between March (2.4 percent) and April (21.2 percent).
Even as much of Michigan's economy is brought back online following a months-long shutdown, job losses continue to mount in the state, new unemployment claims data show, highlighting the deep economic strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ottawa County’s most recent unemployment rate is the highest recorded since data was first reported in 1976. Statewide, the rate topped 22 percent — also an all-time high.
“Jobless rates in April exceeded 20 percent in most Michigan regions, reflecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jason Palmer, director of the Bureau of Labor Marketing Information and Strategic Initiatives.
“Industry jobs plunged throughout the state, particularly in the leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors.”
Even though Ottawa County’s rate is slightly better than the statewide average, it ranked 19 out of 83 counties.
The counties with the lowest rates include Menominee (14.5 percent), Washtenaw (14.9 percent), Houghton County (15.8 percent) and Dickinson County (16.6 percent) — three of which are located in the Upper Peninsula.
Kent County ranked 21st in the state at 21.6 percent, while Allegan County ranked 28th in the state at 22.8 percent.
The local region — consisting of Barry, Kent, Montcalm and Ottawa counties — saw a month-over-month increase of 699.3 percent and a year-over-year increase of 678.1 percent.
Nearly 1.05 million unemployment claims were filed across the state in April.
The previous record was 725,000 claims filed in June 2009 following the Great Recession. This lines up with Ottawa County’s last recorded unemployment peak at 14.1 percent in July 2009.
Late last month, lawmakers representing Ottawa County from both chambers of the Legislature called for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to reopen the county after the massive surge of claims bogged down the state’s unemployment system.
The legislators referenced a Bridge Magazine report that found that Ottawa County had an over 1,600 percent increase in unemployment claims from February to April, per a House Republicans spokesperson.
According to state data released Thursday, June 4, the pace of layoffs continued to ease, with new claims dropping to 41,035 in the week ending May 30, down from 64,574 the previous week.
More than 1.7 million Michigan residents have filed for unemployment, a sign of the large toll COVID-19 has taken on the state's economy.
While Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted the state's stay-home order Monday, allowing workplaces, retailers and restaurants to reopen with certain restrictions, that doesn't necessarily signal that employees who were furloughed will resume full-time work immediately.
While the state's labor department said it distributed benefits to 92% of state residents who have filed for unemployment benefits and were deemed eligible as of May 13, many residents have struggled to get benefits, spending hours, or even days, calling labor department representatives, trying to talk to someone on the phone.
Some have still not received benefits they've been waiting for since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
Some claimants may now see a “Stop Payment” notice on their account after the state said fake claims are being filed nationally as part of an international crime ring. It appears personal data is safe but filers may now have to take extra steps to verify their identity.
Nationally, 1.88 million claims were filed in the week ending May 30.
To file for unemployment
Go online at Michigan.gov/UIA. Names that begin with A-L file claims on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Names beginning with M-Z on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays are for any who could not file the rest of the week.
Or call 866-500-0017. Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Names that begin with A-L file claims Monday and Wednesday. Names beginning with M-Z Tuesday and Thursday. Fridays and Saturdays are for any who could not call on designated days.
— Detroit Free Press writer Adrienne Roberts contributed to this report.