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Has Canton Township Avoided the Recession?

With a jobless rate of 3.3 percent, Canton Township boasts one of the lowest jobless rates in Michigan. But does that number reflect the community’s employment environment accurately?

It's one of Wayne County's most successful enclaves: a sprawling hamlet of success for its businesses and residents alike.

And from a data perspective, that contention bears out: Canton Township posted a minimal unadjusted jobless rate of 3.3 percent for December 2011, according to the Michigan Labor Market Information survey. That level — less than 5 percent — is what economists consider to be full employment.

Numerous businesses, from large corporate headquarters to small, niche retailers have flooded the township in the previous three years, bringing jobs and renewed development opportunities to the township. It's and anti-recessionary scenario that many neighoring communities envy.

But do the numbers reflect the economic reality for the township's residents? Or are the struggles of many in its populce simply not reflected in the data?

The answer is a complex one, at best. Although the township is doing well at attracting a retaining businesses — and many residents are doing an adequate job of staying employed or finding new jobs when the worst happens — it doesn't mean everyone is weathering the economic storm successfully.

Numbers tell different stories

If the data collected by the state is to be believed, the residents of Canton Township collectively are collectively better off than their economically-similar neighbors such as Westland, which logged a 5.5 percent unadjusted jobless rate in December; Livonia, which logged a jobless rate of 4.1 percent; Farmington Hills, which logged a rate of 6.8 percent, and Novi, which posted 5.2 percent for the same period.

The township's other neighbors, Plymouth Township and Northville Township, posed rates lower than Canton, logging 2.8 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.

Even in the darkest days of the recession in 2009, Canton Township outperformed the State of Michigan, and certainly Wayne County, by huge margins. Wayne County's logged an annual unemploment rate of 16 percent, and the state averaged 13.3 percent, in 2009. Canton Township's annual jobless rate for the same period was 5.1 percent — one-tenth of a percentage point higher than full employment.

But, there's another trend that has emerged. The , which serves Canton as well as five other communities, has seen substantial increases in people requesting aid for utility payments and help with other bills. In 2010, 484 families sought help, and in 2011, that number jumped to 585, said Laurie Aren, the director of family and community ministries for the Plymouth Corps.

"The unemployment numbers aren't an accurate reflection of what's happening," she said. "Peple who run out of benefits, those who never qualified for unemployment compensation, those who are underemployed, and others are not counted, and those people still need help."

Aren — the Corps' point person for handling requests for utility assistance and other needs — said the people who find their way into her office represent a wide swath of people, from the underemployed who, for whatever reason, did not meet the state's compensation requirements, to people who once enjoyed full-time work and are now part-time employees, to senior citizens who are falling behind because they have not received Social Security cost-of-living increases.

Jim Rhein, a labor market analyst for the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said there are always people that are not included in data sets, and that unemployment numbers are not the only barometer used to assess the level of need in a community.

"Just because there may not be as many people that are unemployed, that doesn't mean there aren't people who haven't been significantly affected by the local economy and the job market," he sad. "There's increasing expenses, and underemployment."

One number that might account for the increasing need in the township is the township's labor force numbers — which indicate how many individuals are working. In 2009 — the year the recession began — that number was 36,956 people. By 2011, that number was 36,099 — a loss of 857 workers who are not working, and may not be counted in unemployment data.

Canton still better off

So, has Canton Township avoided the recession?

Yes and no, depending on who you are, and who you talk to.

Rhein said it's clear that many Canton residents are still struggling with the effects of joblessess or reduced income. But he also said Canton has not seen the economic meltdown that the rest of Michigan and many other communities have seen. Also, it's difficult to know how many people in a community are working because many people don't live where they work.

"People are suprised that there are communities in Michigan that are doing well," Rhein said.

He cites many reasons for that, including a more educated workforce — 28.6 percent of residents more than 25 years old have a bachelor's degree, and 18.4 percent have a master's degree, according to the US Census — offering some protection in the job market.

Additionally, the fact that the community has not over-invested in the manufacturing sector protected it when the automotive industry imploded in 2009, Rhein said.

Township Supervisor Phil LaJoy agrees that diversity in terms of jobs has helped.

"We have worked aggressively to attract new business," he said. "We've tried to make sure the township is a business-friendly place."

Ineed, the township has most recently attracted a television manufacturer that will bring in about 100 jobs when it opens up shop. Additionally, about 15 new stores or services have opened during the past three years, LaJoy said.

Despite this, it's cold comfort for those sidelined without employment, Aren said.

"It's still very difficult for a lot of people out there," she said.

ttmich February 13, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I am doubt about the rosy unemployment figure of Canton. There are numerous houses for sales, foreclosures, abandoned, etc. throughout the township. Housing in Canton has lost almost 40 percent of its value and the Detroit News reported not too long ago that Canton's foreclosure rate was almost as high as other Michigan's cities'. Why does the foreclosure rate, collapsed housing market in Canton is so high if its employment rate is almost "normal" ? BTW, Isn't that Canton township has laid off its employees by asking them to take so many days off without paid every month?
John McKay (Editor) February 13, 2012 at 04:30 PM
That is a furlough, and yes, they have had departments take furlough days - a day or so each month without pay, during which — based on previous experience with previous jobs — employees can receive a certain amount of unemployment compensation.
Mike February 13, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Gee a furlough, I just had to take a pay and benefit cut. Also the article calls out the Auto Industry; Yes Canton Township does not have a large manufacturer. But it houses many Engineers, Technicians, Tradesmen, and Assembly Workers all who are vital to a strong economy.

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