The Great Recession has been particularly hard for Michigan and its workers. When General Motors and Chrysler fumbled financially, they fell into bankruptcy. By not compensating consumers weary of growing gas prices with practical alternatives, Michigan’s economic core was poised to crumble.
The jobs went elsewhere, everywhere that wasn’t beneficial for the hard workers of Michigan. In March 2009, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi talked about creating “jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs and jobs,” though Michigan must have missed that memo.
In 2009, Michigan unemployment hit 14.1 percent. With such high unemployment in the state, people started to leave. There were jobs elsewhere that they could get, and staying in Michigan was not going to pay the bills.
With a shrinking tax base and facing its own financial instabilities, Michigan was incapable of adequately providing general services to the public. This reduction of services never hurts those who are well off as it does the poor.
Services for the poor are usually the first to go. This had devastating effects on the poor, and particularly the African American community.
The poorest 20 percent of Michigan residents have seen their average incomes decline 3.9 percent from 1970 to the mid-2000s. In the last decade alone, the same 20 percent have seen an income drop of 10.3 percent to $20,400. All this lost income occurred while the richest 5 percent of Michigan residents saw no change in their income over the same time. They still managed to bring home an average of $246,200.
The saying, “The rich keep getting richer, while the poor get poorer” is wrong. Clearly, the rich are not getting richer. It’s only half right.
Looking at unemployment, the African-American community has had a very difficult time. In a study that looked at Michigan unemployment from 1963 to 2012, whites faced an average of 5.1 percent unemployment. African Americans faced an average nearly double that of whites at 11.6 percent.
Things did not bode well for any Michigan worker during the recession, though. State unemployment jumped to 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 when the national unemployment was at 7.8 percent. African-Americans faced 18.7 percent unemployment during the same quarter.
Surprisingly though, the fourth quarter of 2012 wasn’t the worst seen by Michigan workers. Unemployment for whites hit 12.8 percent in 2009, while African-Americans saw 26.9 percent unemployment in 2010. Think about it – over a quarter of Michigan’s African-Americans were jobless.
What benefit does this have to the state?
It is hard not to lay blame on those who are better off, who don’t have to worry about how they are going to put food on the table for their kids or pay for their medication, but blaming the rich will not solve the economic inequalities facing the poor and African-American communities in Michigan. An increase in taxes is always generously proposed, but just the idea of paying more does not settle well in the stomachs of nervous voters.
The key to closing the income equality and unemployment in Michigan is not just education, but easy and affordable access to education. Michigan and its residents have weathered a terrible storm, now let’s fix this state.
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