Labor Surplus or Shortage: The Jamaicans of Mackinac Island

Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the country.  That would typically indicate a surplus of labor.  But on a recent visit to Mackinac Island, the resort community in the straits between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, I met some of the 500 Jamaicans working there.  Yes, 500 Jamaicans working in one small community of the state with the highest unemployment rate.  These are not Americans of Jamaican ancestry; these are residents of Jamaica who come up to Mackinac Island for seasonal work.

Now why are Jamaicans working there instead of Michiganders?  (Actually, there are also plenty of native-born Americans at work, but let’s focus on the 500 Jamaicans.)  I can understand a laid-off auto worker, used to $27 an hour plus generous benefits, not jumping onto a low-wage service job.  But unemployment rates are always higher for less educated people, and for younger people.  So what are the young men and women of Michigan doing?  Why aren’t they taking all of the resort jobs on Mackinac Island?  They could get home to family on long weekends; the Jamaicans are away from home for six months.

I have nothing against the Jamaicans.  From what I saw, they are friendly, hard-working people.  My hat is off to them.  I simply don’t understand why there’s an opening for them in a high unemployment state.  Perhaps, just maybe, the workers of Michigan aren’t willing to work if they cannot get a very generous pay and benefits package.  If so, I am very pessimistic about the outlook for that beautiful state.