What is ironic about Said Nasser’s current unemployment situation is that he spent 10 years helping people find work.
The 40-year-old Dearborn resident and father of five, who lost his job in January 2009, worked as a recruiter for a temporary employment firm, until his employer folded amid a difficult local economy and challenges within Dearborn’s automotive and manufacturing sector.
“I loved doing it,” he said. “I knew that everything I was doing was helping someone take care of their family and find new opportunities.”
Today, Nasser could use someone to show him the same consideration. His unemployment compensation–the only lifeline his family had since he was laid off–ran out after 99 weeks. He’s looked for work every day since his layoff, to no avail.
“I’ve had nightmares about my family living on the street,” he said. “It’s been very stressful.”
Nasser’s situation is not uncommon among many Dearbornites, and others in Michigan. In May, the state’s unadjusted unemployment rate increased in May from 10 percent to 10.3 percent.
Dearborn’s unemployment numbers have consistently been lower than the state average and far lower than the Wayne County average for the past three years, mostly because of its diverse mix of commercial business and manufacturing.
Dearborn’s officials are working to attract more business–and by extension, jobs. And there have been positive developments on the city’s jobs front.
But all of this is cold comfort to those like Nasser, and others who are caught on the receiving end of the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Unemployment by the Numbers
Michigan’s annual seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate has held stubbornly high, with its annual peak hitting 13.3 percent in 2009. In 2010, the state average was 12.5, and in 2008, it was 8.3 percent. In 2011, the percentages were moving downward until the May spike.
In Wayne County, annual unemployment levels peaked in 2009 at 16 percent. In 2008, the rate was 9.9 percent; in 2010, it was 14.5 percent.
Dearborn’s numbers were slightly brighter, peaking at 10.4 percent in 2009, and logging in at 9.4 percent in 2010 and 6.3 in 2008.
Though Dearborn outperformed the state and county regarding unemployment, the numbers are still a dismal reality, said Jim Rhein, an analyst with the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth.
“I’m not surprised that the numbers are a little better in Dearborn because it’s a bigger city with more opportunities for employment,” he said. “There’s a bigger business base than in rural communities, and its accessible.
“But these numbers are nowhere near where they need to be; it’s still going to be tremendously difficult for anyone looking for work,” he said. “(The numbers for Dearborn) aren’t anything to be happy about.”
Resident labor force numbers, however, are a little more unsettling. Dearborn’s labor force stood at 38,310 workers in 2008; but by 2010, that number slipped to 36,604–a loss of 1,706 workers who cannot find work, according to the MDLEG Labor Market information survey. In May 2011, that number was 35,724–a drop of 2,586 from 2008.
“That’s a huge number of people, by any estimation,” Rhein said. “It doesn’t denote a healthy labor market when people pull out–it’s another sign that the job market isn’t where it should be.”
Local Governments Assess Jobs Picture
Part of Dearborn Economic Development Director Barry Murray’s job is to find opportunities to build and diversify the city’s business base.
But since the collapse of the automotive industry and the consequential loss of tens of thousands of white- and blue-collar jobs, that task has become harder.
“It’s been a tough couple of years,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of foreclosures–things are just very tough for a lot of our residents.”
The city has also added the jobless rolls, having recently laid off 42 city workers as part of the 2011-12 budget. Since 2001, the city’s employee roster has been pared by 210 workers, according to data provided by the city.
With jobs coming in and out of the city–especially as Ford Motor Company has restructured and called back workers–it’s hard to know how many jobs have been lost forever.
But there have been some positive developments, Murray said. About 350 re-occupancy permits have been pulled so far this year, signaling new small business activity. Additionally, $740 million in improvements at the Severstal Steel facility will create 140 new jobs–in addition to construction jobs to implement the improvements, and the January opening of Oakwood's Midwest Medical Center retained 300 jobs, and added 200 more.
Murray said he’s confident in the city’s ability to attract business.
“We still have a big business base,” he said. “We have manufacturing and shopping. There’s still a lot to build on.”
Najwa Hadous has been on the front line of helping Dearborn’s unemployed and underemployed for the duration of the recession.
Hadous, the director Employment and Training at the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, oversees a program that aims to help the unemployed find work, and employers find workers. The program is open to everyone in the community.
At her office at ACCESS’ Schaefer Road location, Hadous said she’s seeing a tremendous uncertainty, high stress levels, frustration and sadness among those who use the employment services.
“Their main concerns are finding jobs close by; a lot of the jobs are outside of Wayne County and many depend on public transportation,” she said.
Hadous said other jobseekers are reeling from the fact that employers are requiring degrees for work they have done for years–but without the degree.
“Some (jobseekers) don't have the education employers list on their job openings but may have the skills,” she added. “Others felt in some cases it's still who you know not what you know–many feel sad about the disappearance of employer loyalty.”
Said Nasser spends many days a week at ACCESS, in the hopes of finding his next job.
Until he finds employment, Nasser is relying on help from his family, and is trying to maintain some semblance of optimism. He also laments the fact people in government don't seem to grasp the fears and hardships unemployed people experience.
“It feels bad to not be working because it’s hard on my family, and I feel like it’s been really stressful for them, too," Nasser said. "My wife has also looked for work and she hasn’t been able to find anything, either."
“I’m praying, every day, that something comes up.”