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      Coping with unemployment: Why U.P.'s western region struggles

      Recent unemployment numbers in the U.P. show improvement. But the lives of some in the western region show a different scenario.

      When Tammy Angiolelli, 48, and her family moved to the U.P. three years ago, she thought her background in customer service would be an asset. But she's been looking for full-time work in the town of Wakefield ever since.

      "I've called, and called, and called, and called...no response," said Angiolelli.

      In a sad chain of events, Tammy gained custody of two of her grandchildren and lost her part-time job after her department at Indianhead Mountain Resort closed down. Now she counts on $850.

      "That gets frustrating," Angiolelli said. "Or to hear my other grandchildren, they want to go to the circus; $15 shouldn't be a problem, but it is."

      Her daughter also lost her seasonal job.

      "My youngest one is in diapers, diapers aren't cheap," said 27-year-old Germaine Withrow. "Without a job, how am I supposed to support them?"

      It's a question many are asking. Still, Michigan's unemployment rates have improved. The latest numbers show the state sits at 8.3 percent, almost on par with the national rate, 8.1 percent.

      "Everyone's doing better," said Dennis West, President of Northern Initiatives. "The recovery has been slow, and in comparison to where we were, it's very exciting where we are today."

      Out of the 15 counties in the U.P., Gogebic ranks among the worst. It jumped .4 percent in the last two months, bringing unemployment to a sky rocketing 10.9 percent. The pattern of trickle-down growth in the area is leaving too many families in poverty and too many young people without jobs.

      According to a recent study done by Michigan Works, that's because the western region is isolated, with not enough jobs, a declining population, and a spike in taxes. In the last 10 years, the region lost nearly 3,500 manufacturing jobs, including the shutdown of Smurfit Stone in Ontonagon. The jobs that are available require higher education.

      "The challenges are that there's more openings now for people who have those higher skills and fewer people who have those skills to fill those jobs," West said.

      Back in Wakefield, Tammy and Germaine hope to finish their college degrees, despite the lack of jobs in their town.

      In part two on Wednesday's Early News, we'll tell you about a local welder and his struggles to work in the field he loves.