Home / Looking at the World From the Top of the Bottom of the Barrel

Looking at the World From the Top of the Bottom of the Barrel

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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.

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About Joanne Huspek

I write. I read. I garden. I cook. I eat. And I love to talk about all of the above.
  • Considering the Red Wings are reigning Stanley Cup champs and lead their division. how exactly do they suck?

  • Arch Conservative

    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.”

    Yes and it’s run by Democrats and unions but even think about that little piece of reality when the national savior just showed up on the scene and you can still blame Bush.

    Hey Joanne if you’re the last person, excuse me, second to last person to leave MI don’t forget to tell Granholm to shut off the lights after she leaves OK?

  • The only thing that would make things in Michigan start looking up is if the Pistons volunteered to change their name to the Bears and the Red Wings changed theirs to the Oh Mys.

  • Very moving and touching piece, Joanne, told from the human perspective. In the heat of the political debate, all too often we forget the real cost in terms of the quality of human lives. Regardless of who holds the reign of power, the Democrats or the Republicans, America is no longer what it used to be. It’s a shame how over the years we have squandered our good fortune and let our citizens down. This used to be the greatest country in the world. Very few could say that today and mean it!


  • zingzing

    actually, archie, it seems michigan is run by coalition. they’ve got a dem governer/lt. gov, but sec of state, att gen and the state house are republican. state senate is dem again… so i wouldn’t say it’s run by dems. it’s run by both. more than that, it’s really run by greedy republican auto industry execs, so you might as well just walk away now.

  • Bliffle

    Poor Michigan. Poor Detroit. So badly treated by their industrial lords. Michigan is a living example of why monopolies must be broken up.

  • zing, that’s sweet of you, but you should know by now that arch doesn’t like to let the facts get in the way of his opinion.

  • Joanne,

    …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.

    While you wrote an excellent summary of the less than excellent condition of the state you live in – the other state you live in – the top of the bottom of the barrel – still leaves you room to fall – to the BOTTOM of the bottom of the barrel.

    Trust me. I speak from experience. I once sat in a park in Minneapolis watching a man search a garbage pail for food; we both had the same roof over our heads – the sky.

  • zingzing

    el bicho: “zing, that’s sweet of you, but you should know by now that arch doesn’t like to let the facts get in the way of his opinion.”

    not to defend archie, but such things have occasionally happened. i think under all the froth, there’s an actual thinking being of some sort in there. it’s just too bad that if he stubs his right toe, he blames the left.

  • Ruvy, that is why I wrote that sentence precisely the way I did. I know things could be much worse, I don’t believe we have hit bottom yet. However, I am prepared for the worst-case scenario.

  • maskay

    Nice article, I think you hit a lot of goods points.

    I may disagree in a few areas, the Tigers did go to the World Series, and the Lions can do no worse next year. :). And, the Red Wings have been dominant for over 10 years.

    I think things have been bad in Michigan since 2001, before 9/11. I work for one of the Big Three and that’s when we had our first round of involutary layoffs. Since then I have only had 2 raises, both less than inflation. Every 3-6 months my workload increases due to people leaving. Our healthcare costs have increased dramatically with greater out of pocket expenses.(high deductible PPO’s).

    BUT–I feel fortunate. I have a good paying job with decent healthcare–as you stated, it could be worse and will be worse before it gets better.

  • Michigan is truly a beautiful state. It is one of the great vacation destinations in the country. Unfortunately, Michigan put virtually all of its eggs in the auto industry basket. Of course, for 60 or 70 years that seemed like a very good thing.

    But the shit started hitting the fan about, what -30 years ago or so. The quality of the product coming out of the Big 3 diminished while foreign imports were at first cheaper, then better in quality. Chrysler, GM & Ford didn’t get the memo.

    While on the whole Indiana is in far better shape than Michigan and several other states, there are a number of Hoosier towns that are in a similar bind that Michigan finds itself in – namely Kokomo, Anderson and Alexandria among others. Why? Because their economies depended heavily on the American auto industry.

    Actually, in the early years of the auto industry, Indiana was a major player. Indiana produced the Auburn, the Dusenburg, and I believe the Essex and of course, the Stutz Bearcat. Indiana also housed Studebaker/Packard and a few others. Perhaps, in the long run, it’s proven best that Indiana did not maintain a strong hold on the industry.

    The American auto industry has made a lot of fortunes and over the years a lot more people have made a decent living working for them. Obviously, though, the salad days are long gone. The industry is now sinking toward the bottom of Joanne’s barrel taking much of the state of Michigan with it.


  • bliffle

    If the USA Justice Department had opposed the buyouts of smaller competitors we might have a dozen or more auto makers now, operating in a more nearly classic competitive capitalist economy, no one maker able to dominate markets. Each would have been more adept at adjusting to change, and some would have found their way to producing the lower consumption, lower polluting cars that we are now buying from Japanese makers. And those who failed would not have threatened the entire countries economy.

    The penchant that conservatives and businessmen have for defending (other peoples) monopolies is counter-productive, as we see in the example of the auto makers. It leads to concentrations of power that eventually damage everyone, including other businesses. Look at all the suppliers and vendors who’ve been killed by the GM monopoly.

    If the Justice Department had done it’s job and prevented auto monopolies we wouldn’t have ANY auto company that was “too big to fail”. We should realize that allowing monopolies to flourish means that they become Too Big To Succeed.

  • So what had happened to the Sherman Antitrust Act? How come it had fallen into disuse? That was before the Roosevelt era, so we can’t explain it as a reaction to the New Dealers. Any historians out there?