GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The economic outlook in West Michigan and abroad continues to improve.

The latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor and Michigan’s Department of Technology, Management & Budget both show drops in unemployment.

The Department of Labor reported just 576,000 new unemployment claims in their weekly release. That’s the lowest number we have seen since the start of the pandemic, and down from 769,000 new claims made the week before. Our national unemployment rate is down to 6%, after peaking at 14.8% in April 2020.

The statistics are even more pronounced in Michigan. Our unemployment rate for the month of March came in at 5.1%. Michigan peaked at 23.6% unemployment last April.

Dr. Brian Long, the director of supply management research for Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business, says automotive manufacturing has led Michigan’s economic revival, while one West Michigan staple is left up in the air.

“The other thing that has hurt in this pandemic is the office furniture business,” Long told News 8. “Fourteen percent of the world’s office furniture was made here in West Michigan. Now, I don’t know if that still is or not because we are redefining what the office is. Sales for these industries are down, except for those that are selling to the home office market. Unfortunately many of our local firms weren’t really geared for (that).”

Most sectors of the economy are considered recovered, but two are still lagging behind: retail and hospitality. Long says the bounce back for retail will take longer and will likely include permanent changes.

“We are all very much aware that, in retail, the online version of selling has grown tremendously as a result of this lockdown recession,” Long said. “This has put some people in these retail institutions out of work. They simply don’t need as many people. But at the other end, we have the Amazon warehouse in our local area that’s just growing all the time, and there is a definite need for people for delivery and for staffing these warehouses.”

Most economic experts, including Chair of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell, are bullish on the short- and long-term forecasts for the American economy. Long agrees, but expects it will be at least another year or two before our national unemployment rate returns to the pre-pandemic levels of 3.5%.