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Poll: Health, safety are still leading factors keeping people out of the workforce

6/7/21

Crain’s Detroit Business

By Chad Livengood

Health and safety remain the biggest barrier to getting unemployed workers back in the workforce and some older Michigan residents may never work again after the coronavirus pandemic upended their lives, according to a new statewide poll.

The poll commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber found that 23 percent of respondents who were working before the pandemic and no longer employed said they do not feel safe in a work setting, while another 11 percent cited their age or health as a reason why they don’t plan to return to work.

That combined 34 percent of respondents outnumbered the 14 percent who said a lack of good pay and benefits is why they’re staying out of the workforce, running counter to the idea that generous federal unemployment benefits are the primary factor to blame for widespread labor shortage, pollster Richard Czuba said.

“I think we need to understand that a good chunk of the reason people are struggling for labor right now is because a lot of the older workers have decided not to work anymore,” said Czuba, president of the Lansing-based polling firm Glengariff Group Inc.

The statewide telephone operator poll of 600 registered voters reveals a “consistent nervousness due to COVID” to return to workplaces, Czuba said.

“We need to understand that people are still scared about this and nervous about re-entering the labor force,” Czuba said.

Michigan’s maximum unemployment benefit is $362 per week. The American Rescue Plan federal stimulus law adds an extra $300 per week in weekly unemployment insurance, boosting potential benefits to $662, or the equivalent of $16.55 per hour for a 40-hour work week.

Glengariff Group conducted the poll May 22-26 using live telephone operators, with half of the respondents contacted via cell phone. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Pollsters also asked a small sample of 15 unemployed individuals among the survey respondents why they are no longer working or looking for work and nine of them said they’re either now retired, disabled or on disability benefits. Four workers cited raising children or child care as the reason they’re not currently working.

Just one of the 15 respondents said they’re currently drawing unemployment benefits.

“It’s a simplistic reason to only say, ‘Oh it’s because of the federal benefits,'” Czuba said.

Also disrupting the labor market in Michigan is turnover in the workforce.

About 13 percent of respondents said they have changed jobs since the pandemic hit Michigan in March 2020. Among respondents ages 18 to 30, 30 percent said they have changed jobs in the past 15 months.

Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the chamber had Glengariff Group dig into the issue to better understand what’s behind the current labor shortages that have wreaked havoc on the service industry in particular.

“We really wanted to understand was it really just the $300 federal supplemental unemployment insurance,” Baruah said. “It turned out to be much less of a factor than most businesses that I talk would have assumed.”

“It even turned out to be less of a factor than I assumed it was,” Baruah added.

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