About once a week, when my husband and I are both on video calls while working from home, the audio gets squawky and screechy. A message will pop up on my screen: Low system resources may affect quality.

Typically I turn off the video, and the audio clarifies. Until I started working on this issue’s cover story, I considered it a relatively minor, infrequent inconvenience: Trade off the video, temporarily, to fix the audio. Forge forward with my workday.

But what if the tradeoff you must make for your workday isn’t so minor or temporary? Say you can’t find daycare for your kids. Or that your commute is an hour, because you can’t afford to live closer to your job. Maybe both.

As our story “Solving the Workforce Puzzle” explains (page 8), northern Michigan residents confront these tradeoffs every day.

Some are familiar, some newer, but now, judged in the harsh light cast by the pandemic, more individuals and families are concluding the tradeoffs aren’t worth the drain on their “system resources” of time, money and energy. They leave the workforce. Many others find their lives like the tower on our cover—precariously balanced, quality subject to collapse. That pop-up warning from Zoom started to seem prescient.

Warnings lead to awareness, which is the first step to problem-solving. Hopefully, our story sheds light and helps bring that awareness. Now, more system resources must be directed toward solutions that will stabilize people’s lives. The quality of life we prize in northern Michigan hangs in the balance. N