September 29, 2009
Work Force Adjustment Conference in Detroit
The Midwest automotive belt faces an extraordinary challenge of work force transition; namely, profound structural change in the auto sector on top of the cyclical impact of a deep national recession. At an upcoming conference, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago will partner with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research to gauge the dimensions of the challenge, provide conceptual and evaluative foundations for work force and human capital policies, and discuss regional and federal initiatives for workers and their communities in the Midwest.
Given the dismal national unemployment picture, the state of worker dislocation in Michigan and other Midwest automotive communities may not be fully appreciated. But unemployment in these communities is significantly worse than national averages. While the national unemployment rate has just now reached 9.7%, Michigan’s unemployment rate is now at 15.2% and has exceeded 10 percent since December of last year. Payroll employment in Michigan has fallen (year over year) in every year of this decade. Coupled with the current national downturn, an industry shift of automotive production away from Michigan has meant the state has lost more jobs in automotive than those jobs that remain. If current expectations are met, national economic recovery will offer only limited help. So, although job recovery is expected to unfold nationally, albeit at a slow pace, throughout 2010, areas dependent on the auto sector will lag significantly. Unlike the recovery period following the deep 1980-82 recessionary period, North American automotive sales are not expected to bounce back smartly this time.
In view of this bleak outlook, redevelopment of both industry and work force in the Midwest will be needed. Michigan communities are working hard to develop and attract new industries to the state and to attract capital investments. Most notable among emerging industry sectors here are energy technology initiatives, medical-related technology companies, health care, and tourism.
For workers, the current environment poses some particular challenges. Among these are fewer prospects for re-employment in other regions due to relatively high unemployment in many parts of the country. Neither do today’s demographics in Michigan favor easy out-migration; on average, the state’s work force is older and less educated. So too, falling home prices mean that households cannot easily tap pools of home equity to use in re-locating to job markets in other regions.
With so much working against the state’s economy, and with so much at stake, it is important that the many work force adjustment and re-training programs underway are effective. Rebuilding Michigan’s economy will require effective training, job placement, and other support services.
The central idea of the October 8–9 conference event will be to hold up work force programs and initiatives against the realities of current conditions and the state of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work. Accordingly, conference sessions will be grouped by general category of work force initiative. Sessions will address first-response initiatives in the job placement and retraining arena, followed by discussion of worker training targeted toward the expected emergence of specific industries, such as health care and energy technology. The conference will also address entrepreneurial programs that promote both self-employment and the subsequent development and support of new firms and industries.