Michigan Seeks to Overcome Ailing Economy Michigan, considered the manufacturing heartland, is struggling along with its besieged industries. It has shed a third of auto industry jobs — though automakers continue to be the biggest employer in the state. Overall unemployment is 7 percent.
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Michigan Seeks to Overcome Ailing Economy

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Michigan Seeks to Overcome Ailing Economy

Michigan Seeks to Overcome Ailing Economy

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Rick Pluta of Michigan Public Radio covers the state today. And both will talk with us this morning about one battleground state that faces a battle over its economy.

Rick Pluta, how bad is it?

RICK PLUTA: Well, we have a seven - and almost seven and a half percent unemployment rate. And so if you think about it, when the numbers get to be that big, then everybody who's not facing the prospect of unemployment knows somebody who's facing some kind of uncertainty; that we have for sale signs in front of homes that sit there for months; that our foreclosure rates are skyrocketing. And so there's a lot of anxiety.

And so people in Michigan, when they were listening to this debate, were wondering what are these candidates going to do to help out me, my friends, my relatives who've relied for so long on an automotive economy that's tanking.

INSKEEP: I'll remind people that you were on the program not so long ago telling us about a budget impasse in Michigan. Wasn't that all about how the state was going to deal with less and less money?

PLUTA: That's right. That with the sinking of the economy so has the state's revenue picture grown bleaker. And so the state has to find, basically, new ways to pay for government services - and I would point out the kind of government services that would make a state the kind of place where people want to live and work. And because right now what the state is relying on for revenue just isn't working the way that it used to.

INSKEEP: Don Gonyea, I know you've lived in and around the Detroit area for many years before you covered the White House for NPR. And I have to ask, how does it affect the city in a metropolitan area when it's been in decline really for decades in a row?

DON GONYEA: Well, the anxiety that you feel when you come here - I've been away for about seven years but I come back all the time to see family and friends. And you do not have to go looking for people to tell you a tale of woe, to tell you how concerned they are about things.

Just yesterday, in and around the debate site, unsolicited, I had a half a dozen conversations with people and they went something like - you know, gee, my company has cut back or I've lost my job; or I'm back to part-time; and I know my skills would translate somewhere else in the country, except I live in a condo complex where there are 220 units and 36 of them are on the market and six are in foreclosure. So I can't sell so I'm just stuck here. And I'm just not sure where it goes.

So what you feel is that the optimism that has always kind of permeated this state - that better times ahead, that the next cycle in the auto industry will turn things around - may not play out this time. People are very, very concerned.

INSKEEP: And we should mention this is all happening at a time when the country as a whole has been seen as growing economically, but it's certainly not true in some industrial areas. And I'd like to ask you, gentlemen, did you hear anything said by any of the presidential candidates that seemed to specifically address those concerns?

GONYEA: You know, Steve, for the most part the debate really dealt with, you know, broad national issues. But if people were looking for a specific fix or a specific help for Michigan, they didn't really hear it.

Mitt Romney, whose father was governor of Michigan back in the '60s, spoke of his family ties to the state and how what happens here is really personal to him. And he was sending a signal to Michigan that the state will have a real friend in the White House in a Romney presidency.

John McCain was asked about Detroit carmakers' competitiveness, and he raised the issue of health care costs, and - especially for retirees and how that puts them at a real disadvantage to foreign competition. He said reform is needed but again, not a lot of specifics.

INSKEEP: Rick Pluta?

PLUTA: Yeah. If - you know, if Michigan were choosing a state motto today, it would be, could I interest you in a Chevy? Or something like that, that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

PLUTA: That the auto industry is just suffering, suffering, suffering, and there's not the prospect now, as it always seems it was in the past - the optimism that Don was just talking about, the prospect now that things are going to improve. That in the last five years, Michigan shed a third of its auto industry jobs, and the auto industry is still the largest employer in the state, and Michigan is still the center of the North American automotive industry. And the rest of the country…

INSKEEP: Got to stop you there.

PLUTA: …is worrying about the economy the same that Michigan is.

INSKEEP: Rick Pluta, thanks very much. And Don Gonyea, thank you as well, NPR's White House correspondent.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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