KALKASKA — James Gilman believes the state of Michigan didn’t consider Kalkaska County’s high unemployment rate before it decided to close its Michigan Works Kalkaska service center.
“The government has quit on us,” said Gilman, 55, still jobless after a layoff four or five years ago. “They don’t understand. All they see are the bigger unemployment numbers. The state of Michigan has gone down, but it’s because the bigger cities are hiring.”
Kalkaska’s service center closed for good on Thursday. But the learning lab door — the region’s highest attended adult education lab — will stay open four days a week. And a self-service kiosk will be installed, said Janie McNabb, chief operating officer for Northwest Michigan Works that encompasses 10 counties.
Tammy Jenkins, assistant manager at the Next Door Store gas station and store in Kalkaska, was disappointed.
“I know when I was unemployed, I was there all the time,” she said. “It’s sad.”
Due to previous cuts, the Kalkaska Michigan Works service center was only open Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The decision to close the center came after federal funds were cut by 35 percent as a result of the federal budget sequestration. That slashed Michigan’s share of the federal formula, and subsequently tightened Northwest Michigan Works’ budget, which cut 10 positions through lay-offs and attrition.
The Kalkaska service center was the only casualty among the region’s five service centers, although Petoskey’s service center will drop from five to three operating days per week. The agency also plans to downsize the Manistee service center, McNabb said.
McNabb acknowledged the Kalkaska closing will be tough, but visits decreased significantly in the last two years. The center is also in closer proximity to another center than the others. Operating a site is expensive, so Michigan Works is exploring less expensive ways to reach out to the community, such as partnering with other groups to hold job workshops, McNabb said.
Kalkaska’s unemployment in May was 9.3%, about the middle of the state’s 83-county unemployment ranking. Although still high, it’s a big improvement over the 16.8 percent jobless rate in March 2010.
Michigan’s May unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, the 43rd worst in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Kalkaska’s recovery is less robust than Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties with unemployment rates of 7.5% and 6.6%, respectively, but slightly lower than the counties of Antrim (10 percent) and Benzie (9.5 percent), labor statistics for May show.
Gilman, who served in the Army for 21 years, said he gets by on food stamps, a small military disability check, subsidized housing, and a bike for transportation.
“I spend very little money,” he said.