Michigan Gov.: Job Loss 'Our Own Katrina' At least one in 10 Michigan residents is unemployed. Facing the highest unemployment rate in the country, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says she's optimistic federal funds can help save the state. The Democrat shares her plan to use economic stimulus dollars to break Michigan's dependence on the auto industry.

Michigan Gov.: Job Loss 'Our Own Katrina'

Michigan Gov.: Job Loss 'Our Own Katrina'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101990867/101990862" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

At least one in 10 Michigan residents is unemployed. Facing the highest unemployment rate in the country, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm says she's optimistic federal funds can help save the state. The Democrat shares her plan to use economic stimulus dollars to break Michigan's dependence on the auto industry.

Michigan Democratic Governor Jennifer Granholm has lead the state since 2003. hide caption

toggle caption


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up: News that insurance giant AIG got billions in taxpayer money and then used millions to pay out bonuses has infuriated many Americans, including President Obama. Now the president is saying he's going to explore ways to stop it. We'll ask our Money Coach Alvin Hall and a top editor at Black Enterprise magazine about all that in just a moment. But first, a newsmaker interview.

Here on TELL ME MORE, we've hosted a series of conversations with governors and mayors from across the country about how their communities are faring in economic downturn and the efforts they're making to deal with the crisis. Today, we hear from Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Her state has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation at 11.6 percent. And while the Obama administration estimates the Federal Recovery Package will save or create over 100,000 jobs in Michigan, some predict that major job losses will continue well into the next year. We're going to talk about that with Governor Granholm. She's with us now from Lansing. Welcome, Governor. Thanks for joining us.

Governor JENNIFER GRANHOLM (Democrat, Michigan): Thanks so much.

MARTIN: Were you on pins and needles when the Congress was debating the recovery plan? Can you just describe how you felt when the bill finally passed, the president signed it?

Gov. GRANHOLM: Well, we felt a great sense of relief - not that it's going to cure all of our problems. Our unique unemployment rate is due to the auto industry restructuring, and obviously, we are very interested in what the auto task force that President Obama has appointed will recommend to him. But this Recovery Reinvestment Act will at least allow us to stem the job losses and to be able to invest for the future.

Our economy has been, for a 100 years, Michel, the auto capital of the world. We're proud of that. But if you have your whole economy resting on one leg, then it's going to be very unstable. So we want to use this as a way to diversify our economy and train people for the jobs that we know will be emerging in the 21st century.

MARTIN: Can you give us an idea of what exactly what you'll do with this money?

Gov. GRANHOLM: Yeah, exactly. We want to make sure that we take advantage, particularly of the things that will allow us to grow jobs in the green and renewable energy sector. We - Michigan is unique in another sense, not just because it's the automotive capital, but because we are surrounded by the Great Lakes. In fact, Michigan's got more miles of shoreline than any other state in the country, other than Alaska - more miles of shoreline than Florida, more miles of shoreline than California. People are surprised by that. But what does that do for us?

That means that there's a huge amount of wind in Michigan off of the Great Lakes. So we've got all of these people who for years have been manufacturing the stuff that goes into cars, auto parts. There's no reason why they can't be manufacturing the stuff that goes into wind turbines as well. And so we've got a manufacturing infrastructure, a delivery transportation infrastructure to do that, and the wind. So we want to - not just on wind, but on forests, too, because we are a northern state. We actually have the largest amount of forest land of any state in the country, and that means that the forest waste, the waste from the pulp and paper industry can be converted into biofuels.

So we want to take advantage of this recovery package to retrain people and to provide jobs in areas that - we know it won't replace all of the lost manufacturing jobs, but it certainly will put us on a steadier economic stool.

MARTIN: That seems exciting for the future. But what about for now? The automotive industry lost more than 100,000 jobs last year.

Gov. GRANHOLM: We've lost - I'm telling you, Michel - we've lost in Michigan because of our - we got 13 times more auto jobs than any other state. So we've lost almost - we will have lost, I think by the end of this year, 500,000 jobs. Can you imagine? I mean, you know…

MARTIN: That's the entire population of the District of Columbia.

Gov. GRANHOLM: Exactly. I mean, it has been a - our own slow Katrina that has rolled through Michigan. It's been death by 500,000 cuts. And so this is why this opportunity to diversify is so important to us. Now, the question for us, too, is - and this recovery act provides us with the means to have a safety net, for all those people that really need the dignity of a second career and another option. So, you know, because of our manufacturing history in Michigan, we've got these tremendous, tremendous work ethic and people who went from high school to factory and know how to work and know how to do the machining.

We need to give them the chance to rebuild themselves, to diversify their skill base. And that's why we started something called No Worker Left Behind, where we are giving people a chance to go back and get trained or certified in a new area through our community college system. We're going to train and retrain people. The first 100,000 that come in the door, we'll pay the tuition for. We'll give you $5,000 per year for two years if you decide to get retrained in an area that we know is an emerging sector.

We won't retrain people to, you know, get a degree in French, but we will retrain people to get a degree or certification in health care, which is now our largest sector, or in renewable energy or in weatherization, which is another big opportunity that the Reinvestment Act provides right now. And, of course, then - overlaying all of this, I'm sorry to go on so long, but it's very exciting for us - is the opportunity to put construction workers back to work. We have a 40 percent unemployment rate in those construction workers - so building roads and bridges, weatherizing homes. That kind of stuff is obviously an opportunity for us, too.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're speaking with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm about how the economic crisis is affecting her state and how legislative efforts are hopefully improving conditions in her state. I wanted to talk about President Obama's regional health care forum on Thursday in Dearborn. You've previously said that Michigan is the poster child of why reform needs to happen. What did you mean by that? And what type of a forum is important for Michigan - not only in the future, but right now?

Gov. GRANHOLM: Well, health care, obviously, is a huge economic issue. I can tell you, in Michigan, we have these great auto companies - not just the automakers themselves, but the suppliers to them. And the sort of line is now is these are health care providers who happened to build cars to pay for it. We know that health care costs are making businesses in America uncompetitive. For the first time now in Ontario, Canada, they're building more cars than they have been in Michigan. That's a first. And these automakers aren't going there to build cars because of the tax rate or because of the low wages. They're going there because of health care. So…

MARTIN: And it's because Canada's single payer health care system lowers the cost for individual employers. It takes it off the table for them.

Gov. GRANHOLM: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we need to create a uniquely American solution to the cost of health care. And, in fact, on the day that we had that forum, the Business Roundtable came out - where there's a national group of CEOs came out and said the health care system in the United States is hurting businesses in their effort to compete globally.

MARTIN: Well, one of the criticisms to the president's health care initiative so far is that he seems to be overlooking people who advocate a single payer health care system. I mean, is that because it's just politically untenable, or is it because it's such a terrible idea?

Gov. GRANHOLM: No, I don't think people think it's a terrible - some people think it's a terrible idea, some people do. And I think he is a pragmatist. He wants to get this done, and he believes that we can craft a uniquely American solution. So may be it's not fully single payer. Maybe it is a shared responsibility between business and government and the individual. But the bottom line is we know that the current system has us as a nation paying something like twice as much as what the other industrialized nations pay who have single payer systems and who cover everybody.

But right now, we have 47 million people in this country who are uninsured, and who is paying the cost for that? Because it's not like they're not getting sick or not getting old or not having babies. They are. They're just going to have the most expensive kind of treatment, which is at the emergency room. So is there a more rational way to do this, is what he's asking. We are so happy that the stars are aligned because the business community is now onboard saying we got to fix this system. It's broken. Whereas when this was raised in the '90s under the Clinton administration, the business community was digging in their heels. And now they are helping to lead the charge because they know it's making them uncomfortable.

MARTIN: To that point, President Obama has recently been criticized by some big figures in the business community like Warren Buffett, like former GE CEO Jack Welch, for doing too much. I mean, you know, in the first 50 days, he's presented a stimulus plan. He's also presented a foreclosure plan, presented a discussion of educational reform. And he's also talking about health care reform even though his HHS secretary hasn't been fully put in place yet. And what is your take on that? Their argument is he should be focusing with laser-like focus on the economy and that he's doing too much by focusing on these other issues. What's your take on that?

Gov. GRANHOLM: My take on it is that the things he's focused on are things related to the economy, even health care. That's my whole point, is that health care and the cost of it is hurting our economic competitiveness as a nation. That's one of the reasons why we've lost so many jobs in Michigan. So that's clearly - they are woven in a mutual garment of destiny, as Dr. King would say, the economy and health care. And thank goodness we have a president who can multitask, because the layered approach of addressing the economy is a sophisticated approach. I mean, when he signs into laws lifting the restrictions on stem cell research - that is, obviously, a moral issue.

But it's an economic issue, too, because we need to make sure that we can do the research and the development for the cures that will put people to work and certainly allow those health care businesses to thrive. So bottom line is I think he is doing a lot, but I think a lot needs to be done.

MARTIN: And finally, governor, there are those who've criticized President's Obama's tone. They feel that he's been little too negative about our overall picture. Some say, well, he's just being realistic. Now he's told Americans to prepare for things to get worse before they get better. He says they are going to get better. I'm curious how you handle this, as a person who's in a position of leadership in a state where things are pretty difficult right now. How do you manage the message for your citizens or for your residents and how do think about the present and the future?

Gov. GRANHOLM: It is such a great question, Michel. And you can see that anyone who's in a position of leadership, you want to be candid with people because you want to make sure that you've got their trust and they understand that you understand how hard things are out there for them. So you've got to balance that. But you don't want to talk down the hope and the future. And so you've noticed that recently, he's changed his language a bit with respect to his predictions for the market, for the economy, that the economy is sound and that we're going to be all right.

And I think it's important for both messages to come across. And that is a very, very difficult balance. It's a one, certainly, that I've tried to navigate and have not been so successful at times. I can tell you sometimes I've been overly optimistic and have engendered a lot of pushback about that. And there are times when I've been overly pessimistic and have engendered pushback about that. It's a difficult line to walk.

MARTIN: Jennifer Granholm is the Governor of Michigan. She joined us from Lansing. Governor, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Gov. GRANHOLM: You bet. Thanks, Michel.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.