People ask me why I’m still living in Michigan. After yesterday’s news of the December jobless rate hitting 10.6%, I am starting to wonder. This means that our “great” state has the dubious distinction of having the highest unemployment rate in the entire country. December’s figure is also the worst recorded unemployment statistic seen in this state since 1984. Michigan is only 6.3% away from the all-time record of 16.9%, set in 1982.
But wait! That’s not the worst of it. This year’s projected job loss is estimated at 108,000 additional positions being reduced, with the 2010 projection set at 24,000 more on the unemployment rolls. That’s in this state alone, not in the region or country. I have a feeling these are conservative estimates. That’s a lot of jobs, people. Despite the fact that some small companies have set up shop (ePrize in Pleasant Ridge), some larger ones have opened satellite work sites (Google in Ann Arbor), and that 25 motion pictures have been shot here since April, these measly efforts are doing little to bolster our struggling economy. There's talk of building plants to make batteries for hybrid and electric cars, but talk is cheap. Action costs a lot more.
There are other states and other cities feeling the pinch, but let’s face it, they are not Michigan nor are they Detroit. There’s still hope in California and Colorado, where my relatives live, and times are not yet getting hardscrabble tough. There’s still hope in New York, where the money is, and in Indiana, where they appear to know what to do with theirs. There’s hope in the south, where a good friend of mine has been lobbying us to move for years.
Here, there is little hope. We are in a collective, permanent state of holding our breath, waiting for the next axe to drop and the next head to roll. State revenue is on the decline, but employment by the state is on the increase, sounding a potential house of cards coming to a fluttery end. Except for the auto industry, the next biggest employer in Michigan is Michigan, and with a massive health care and retirement obligation that puts the Big Three’s to shame. Not only is the birth rate falling, people are moving out of here in droves. That joke about the last person out of Michigan, please turn out the lights, is not that funny anymore. Here, the financial crisis has been percolating since 2005. According to my handy-dandy office spreadsheet, our modest business made a 3% gain that year, but the following years, the figures were all in the red, minus 6%, then 11%, and in 2008, 15% down.
Having to endure a punitive 22% business tax (no reason, just because) on top of the regular income tax rubs salt on the wound. Our governor, Jennifer Granholm, crying for retraining for displaced autoworkers is a joke. Retraining, for what? As far as I can see, there’s not one industry in this state clamoring for more workers. Perhaps Governor Jen is talking about retraining people so they can go somewhere else to find a job. Things are so bad that my two one-time high school helpers were overjoyed to have a part time job to come back to during their college Christmas break. They are each counting on summer employment that I can’t promise.
As witnessed by last December’s Congressional hearing regarding the Big Three’s bid for bridge loans, it’s apparent that the rest of the country thinks so little of our Mitten State, our elected officials thought it was okay to kick these CEOs around. While I was leery of the ‘stimulus’ packages given to the banks and insurance companies (did they miss anyone else? Oh, yes, me.), and I’m no fan of the automakers or their union, a part of me was yelling at the CSPAN broadcast. Instead of a cohesive, well-thought-out presentation, the Big Three head honchos looked like a trio of idiots. What made it worse was that they were being dressed down by people guilty of the same greed and lack of business sense.
And it’s not just in regards to the economy where we get no respect. The Lions, Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings -– they all suck. Michigan and Michigan State have lost the glitter of by-gone days. Of course, we had to endure the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal, from which reverberations are still being felt today. Bigger cities like Chicago may be known for their grinding political machinery, payoffs and widespread corruption, but Jailbird Kwame did his best to have Detroit come in a close second. But not to worry; Monica Conyers has taken his place, apparently spending taxpayer dollars on frivolous trips abroad and hiring relatives.
Last week, I was chatting with an internet friend of mine in Boston on Facebook. Things aren’t so rosy in Massachusetts; her husband was laid off last year, just a few years short of retirement. They are too “old” to pack it in and start over. The best job he could get was at one of those big box building supply stores, for a lot less than what he was making before at his white collar job. As a result, there go the retirement plans; there goes the idea of selling the homestead and heading south (because their housing market has dropped as well); there goes her retirement; there goes the hope, replaced instead by fear of the future unknown. I know that feeling well; I’ve been living it for years.
During our playful exchange, my friend made the comment, “How do you stay so positive? Don’t you live in Detroit?” I almost laughed, except I had tears in my eyes.
I’m no optimist; I’m a bona fide cynic. Every day, I am thankful that I have what I have, because I know people who are truly suffering and have much less. With the world in so much chaos, I know I'm just a heartbeat away from calamity.
But you have to believe that if you’re at the top of the bottom of the barrel, the only direction you can go from there is up.