Friday, July 17, 2009

A Dubious Distinction

It was reported today that Michigan became the first state in a quarter of a century to exceed 15% unemployment.

In fact, as CNN observes, Michigan has had the nation's highest unemployment rate for 12 consecutive months. That isn't the sort of list that any state wants to be leading.

Let's let that sink in for a minute, shall we? It wasn't so long ago that economists were saying that unemployment would start to go down in midsummer; now they're saying that unemployment will continue to rise until, perhaps, 2010.

And we're getting closer to the time when one of every five adults in Michigan will be jobless.

It probably isn't too surprising that Michigan's unemployment rate is so high, being the home of the beleaguered American auto industry. But it should give everyone pause.

We've had recessions, but no state has had an unemployment rate of 15% or higher since March 1984.

I remember March 1984. Gary Hart had come out of nowhere to challenge former Vice President Walter Mondale for the Democratic presidential nomination. Mondale won the nomination, of course, and went on to lose to President Reagan in a landslide, but in March, Hart was riding high and drawing big crowds wherever he spoke.

In March of 1984, I was working at the Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock. It was a morning newspaper, and I worked on the copy desk so that meant I worked nights. In 1984, I think Arkansas chose its delegates in a caucus, not a primary, but Hart came to Little Rock to speak, anyway, and his appearance happened to be on a night that I wasn't working.

So I went to hear him speak, and I was amazed at the crowd he drew.

I don't recall whether he got many delegates from Arkansas. After 25 years, one's memory can be a little fuzzy, but I recall that most of the state's white Democrats supported Mondale and most of the state's black Democrats supported Jesse Jackson.

In fact, many of the people who attended Hart's speech that night may not have supported him at the caucus — if they participated in it at all. Many may have come because Hart was the fresh face in the political race. Many may have come simply because they were curious.

But the recession that plagued the nation in the early 1980s was over, for the most part, by March 1984. I'm not sure why West Virginia's unemployment rate was so high at that time — but CNN says it was the last state to exceed 15% unemployment.

Anyway, Michigan's unemployment rate is quite high — but it certainly isn't the only one in double digits. Rhode Island and Oregon are both over 12%, CNN says. In fact, 15 states and the District of Columbia are in double digits, CNN reports.

So there is no reason for anyone or any state to feel safe.

No comments: