Southwest Michigan economic experts are predicting a long haul before the employment market is back to where it was before the start of the pandemic. Kinexus Group held a roundtable to talk about the state of the economy and its possible turnaround on Wednesday. Chief Operating Officer Jake Gustafson said employment will not jump back up, but crawl back up.
“All of the easy wins have probably been accomplished, and from here it’s a bit of a tough slog,” Gustafson said. “So in these instances, you’ll see some months where we had 5% gains. We’ll probably still have gains, but you’re going to see a much more – and honestly it’s in line with more normal economic trends – gains more in the 1 to 2% per month range.”
Gustafson said small businesses have by far been hit the hardest, not only due to shutdowns but also because consumer spending is down by about a third.
“We’re concerned, to be honest, about small business and the viability for these folks going forward. Really, these are the firms that have had the hardest impact, that the impact has been the most severe, and the effects of the pandemic lockdown are likely going to have the highest degree of consequence for them.”
Gustafson doesn’t expect unemployment to get back to pre-COVID levels until at least the second quarter of next year. Berrien County’s unemployment rate in June was 13.7%. Cass County was at 13%, and Van Buren County was at 12.4%. Looking at sectors of the economy, leisure and hospitality are down by 44%, especially affecting entry-level workers.