Uncategorized — March 26, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Michigan Leads the Way…To the Bottom


Cross-posted at the Daily Kos.

In February Michigan residents learned the unemployment in our state had risen to a national high of 11.6%. That beat the national average of 7.6% handily.

This morning we found out that last month it ticked up a bit more and now 12% of Michiganders are unemployed. And it’s probably more than that given the quirks of how those numbers are calculated (dropping people of the roles after a period of time.) Nationally it’s “only” 8.1%.



According to the Detroit News:

Michigan posted its third straight month of painful, double-digit unemployment in February, with a nation-leading 12 percent of the state’s work force out of a job.

“This would be the highest rate the state’s had since January 1984, when the rate was 12.1 percent,” said Bruce Weaver, an economic analyst with the state.

Dana Johnson, chief economist for Comerica Bank, called the jobless figure released Wednesday “grim, quite simply.”

“We have the highest unemployment rate now in Michigan in 25 years, roughly 4 percentage points above the national average,” he said.

“It just documents what everybody knows: The local economy is going through a terribly challenging time. It’s just as tough as can be.”

The reality in Michigan is that literally everybody knows someone who has been impacted by this. For me, the story is right next door.

My neighbor Vince moved into the ranch house next to mine a month after we bought our house in fall of 2006. Vince was a trendsetter of sorts. He moved to Michigan with his dog to take a job as a Purchasing Manager for an auto parts supplier. With a good job, he bought a very reasonable home with a mortgage he had no problem handling. He improved the property, kept it up beautifully and was, in all ways, the perfect neighbor.

Three months later he was let go.

He spent the next year desperately trying to find a job in his field but, well in Michigan, that’s been a tough task for quite some time, particularly in automotive-related areas. His savings ran out and eventually he was unable to keep up with his mortgage payments. He called the mortgage company repeatedly but was never able to get a real live human on the line. His mortgage had been sold and sold again and by now was owned by a firm in Florida that had no interest in working with him. All Vince wanted was a bit of breathing space to find a job so he could start making payments again.

That didn’t happen.

Last fall, Vince and Jordan (his dog) walked away from the house. His cute little bungalow is now in disrepair. The grass gets cut. Sometimes. Sometimes not.

The ironic part is that a month before the foreclosure proceedings started, Vince got another job. But that didn’t matter. He had missed payments and so the bank foreclosed on him. They will now get pennies on the dollar for his house and that, of course, affects MY home value. If they had only worked with him, they could have gotten the full amount from Vince.

Vince did nothing wrong. He didn’t take on a mortgage he couldn’t afford. He wasn’t leaching off society and expecting they pay for his toxic asset. Vince was a hard worker who wanted to pay his mortgage bill every month. He loved his new home, had put up an beautiful new cedar picket fence so Jordan had room to run, and had himself a nice life with an affordable mortgage bill. He just got fucked.

This story is being repeated across Michigan. The frightening part is that we live in the county with the lowest unemployment rate in the state. Things are actually better here in Washtenaw county. But that did not help Vince.

I love Michigan and have lived here my whole life. We have the best mix of pleasant springs, delicious summers, spectacular falls and restorative winters that I’ve found in this country. But it has really been hard to keep optimistic about my state. Last month I had my salary cut by 10%. Many of my coworkers had their hours cut by 20% forcing them to apply for unemployment one week out of five.

What frightens me is that I am one pink slip away from following Vince into the void. I have a great job and an affordable mortgage of my own. But as much as 60% of the business my company does is related to the automotive industry. And that’s scary.

Michigan has a truly wonderful governor, Jennifer Granholm, who inherited a catastrophic mess from her Republican predecesor, John Engler [retch] and she’s valiantly trying to reconfigure our state to be a leader in New Energy and to help the automotive companies retool and reorient themselves for the future. But right now we’re hurting and, per usual, she’s being beaten and battered by Republicans who think they can place the blame for all of this at her doorstep. It’s sad and it’s infuriating how completely myopic her detractors are.

The good news, I suppose, is that Matt Giraud from Kalamazoo, Michigan did pretty well on American Idol this week. Maybe he’ll get a new job.

I’ll bet it’s not in Michigan, though.

I’m just sayin’…