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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

February 5, 2010 at 9:27 AM

McGinn’s learning curve comes during a risky trip for Seattle

Top of the News: Everybody does a little resume padding, especially in this job market. For example, when I say I lectured at MIT that’s technically true: Murray (State College) In Tishomingo (Oklahoma). My wife did indeed graduate from USC (the University of South Carolina). But fibbing about having a doctorate? That’s a cry for help.

Unfortunately, the cry for help seems to be coming from new Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Just weeks into the office, he chose to expend precious political capital on a sea-wall replacement scheme, which conveniently might get in the way of the tunnel project he opposes. Two-hundred City Hall employees were laid off, then, whoa, hold on, that was delayed because of its effect on “morale.”

I know the mayor has a devoted fan club that believes his election will usher in a new era of grass-roots politics. Maybe so. But the stakes from a learning curve are especially high in the great reset facing every American city.

Whether he likes it or not, McGinn is facing a host of economic challenges. Yes, Seattle is doing better than most cities. But Seattle can’t count on its past successes. The loss of retail downtown is only one danger sign (more about this in a future blog). There’s the critical question of keeping local companies, from the techs to the blue-collar bedrock, while creating and luring new ones. All this is necessary to a healthy economy that can support transit, strong neighborhoods and quality of life.

In the meantime, did I tell you about my Ph.D.? Piled higher and deeper…

The Back Story: No matter how the experts and politicos try to spin it, today’s unemployment report is more dismal news about the most important economic issue for most Americans.

A year ago, the economy was losing 600,000 jobs a month; now it’s down to a net loss of 20,000 jobs. But regular readers of this blog know the economy must generate 127,000 net new jobs just to keep up with the natural growth of the labor force. We’ve lost 8.4 million jobs since the recession started in December 2007, and many aren’t coming back.

The ’00s had essentially no lasting job growth, adding to a middle-class squeeze that includes stagnant wages, loss of pensions and rising health-care costs with diminishing coverage. More than 40 percent of the unemployed have been without a job for six months or more, a record. The real unemployment rate is at least 16.5 percent. And the government revised its totals for 2009, showing more than 600,000 additional jobs were lost for the year.

The situation would be much worse without the stimulus. But much of it had to go to tax cuts that had little larger economic benefit, and to rescue states from their own fiscal straits. The latter saved many jobs, which makes it difficult to quantify just how many jobs were “created” by the stim. Hundreds of thousands were helped by “shovel ready” projects. But the stim was a political compromise; it didn’t specifically target jobs and was never large enough to make up for the hole in GDP left by the meltdown. Now the proposed Obama budget “freeze” could make matters much worse.

That the feds spent untold billions (trillions?) ensuring that Wall Street could get back to risky business as usual, handing out huge bonuses, makes a combustible political situation. Meanwhile, the uncertainty and pain for average Americans continues.

The unemployment mess:(opinion)

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Toyota’s top boss

Says he’s sorry in public

Goldman? No regrets

Comments | More in Jobs/Unemployment

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