March 26, 2009 at 1:00 am

State jobless rate up to 12%

Michigan at highest level since January 1984; rate leads nation.

Kesha Calhoun, 25, left, and Kristin Merritt, 20, both of Detroit, share notes at a Cobo job fair. Michigan leads the nation in unemployment. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)

Michigan posted its third straight month of painful, double-digit unemployment in February, with a nation-leading 12 percent of the state's work force out of a job.

"This would be the highest rate the state's had since January 1984, when the rate was 12.1 percent," said Bruce Weaver, an economic analyst with the state.

Dana Johnson, chief economist for Comerica Bank, called the jobless figure released Wednesday "grim, quite simply."

"We have the highest unemployment rate now in Michigan in 25 years, roughly 4 percentage points above the national average," he said.

"It just documents what everybody knows: The local economy is going through a terribly challenging time. It's just as tough as can be."

The national unemployment rate, meanwhile, grew to 8.1 percent in February, as economic turmoil deepens beyond the borders of Michigan.

The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February was up four-tenths of a percentage point from January.

It was 4.6 points higher than February 2008, and marked a 58 percent rise in the number of jobless residents in the state during the last 12 months, Weaver said.

And as bad as it sounds, that's slower than the increase nationally, which has been 68 percent across the United States since February 2008, he noted.

Michigan jobless rate has increased every month for the last eight, Weaver noted. During the past 13 months, it has recorded just one decline: one-tenth of a point, last June.

Total employment in February declined by 29,000 over the month while unemployment rose by 21,000. That's because the state's labor force recorded a moderate reduction of 8,000 in February.

The tiny ray of good news in the numbers was that February's statewide drop in jobs was its smallest monthly decline since September.

Overall for the past 12 months, payroll jobs in Michigan fell by 277,000 or 6.5 percent, with 80 percent of the job losses coming from the manufacturing, professional and business services sectors, as well as the trade, transportation and utilities category.

The education and health care sectors have been the only employment categories to show an increase since February 2008, posting a gain of 10,000 jobs.

The month-over-month job losses were greatest in the government employment sector, which gave up 12,000 jobs. That number was influenced by a change in the school year at state universities and reduced local hiring at local schools, the state said.

The manufacturing sector gained 2,000 jobs, but would have had a loss without the addition of 7,000 autoworkers who were recalled after temporary layoffs during January's plant closures.

"The recalls in the auto sector helped offset additional job losses elsewhere in the state," Weaver said.

You can reach Money & Life Editor Brian O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or boconnor@detnews.com">boconnor@detnews.com.