Will there ever be a light at the end of tunnel for all of the unemployed workers in Georgia? If the latest numbers are an indication, it won’t be anytime soon.
Labor Department officials recently announced the state’s unemployment rate reached the level of 10.1 percent, the first time in many years that the jobless number hit double digits. To put that into perspective, a 10.1 percent jobless rate means that nearly half a million Georgians are unemployed and looking for work.
The employment picture isn’t much brighter on the national level either. If the recession continues to drag us down and people keep getting thrown out of work, who will pay the price politically?
It won’t be good news for President Barack Obama. His approval numbers have already been slipping in recent weeks, although they are still above the 50 percent level.
That’s not a surprise. All new presidents typically start with a high approval level at the time of their inauguration and see that number go downhill after they’ve been in office a few months.
Obama can also argue that when he took office he inherited the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a problem that cannot be fixed overnight.
But the American people aren’t very patient – they tend to have a limited attention span. With all the money that Obama and Congress have put into the economic stimulus packages, both Republicans and Democrats alike are starting to wonder why the jobs haven’t shown up.
"Quite frankly, we want to know where all the money is going," state Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) said during a legislative hearing last week. "People all over the state are hurting."
There was some good news for the president in the large numbers of people who used the "cash for clunkers" program to trade in their old cars for more fuel-efficient vehicles. That federal program helped financially distressed auto dealers sell thousands of new cars, but it may not have made a dent in the unemployment numbers.
Nationally, Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress have the most to lose if the job picture does not start improving.
At the state level, Gov. Sonny Perdue may be feeling a little uncomfortable as well. Back in January, he unveiled a $1.2 billion package of state bonds for a wide range of projects such as schools, college buildings, roads and libraries. This bond money, Perdue vowed, would jumpstart the economy and create 20,000 construction jobs within the state.
An unemployment rate of 10.1 percent suggests that those jobs haven’t materialized, not even when you add in the $931 million Georgia is receiving in federal stimulus funds for highway projects.
Republicans in the General Assembly may also start feeling the heat as the jobless rate climbs into the stratosphere.
Since the GOP took control of the Legislature in 2005, one of their priorities has been the adoption of numerous tax cuts for corporations and special interests.
When each of these tax breaks was debated, Republican supporters promised they would generate all sorts of economic development and turn the state into a job-creation machine.
That doesn’t seem to have worked either. In the period since January 2005, Georgia’s monthly unemployment rate has exceeded the national unemployment rate for more than half of those months.
There’s no question that the recession has destroyed jobs in every state. But the legislative leadership – along with Perdue — claimed that the tax breaks the state has been granting would result in thousands of new jobs. If those claims were true, you would think that Georgia’s unemployment rate would at least be a little better than the national rate.
According to Labor Department figures, our unemployment rate has been higher than the national rate for 20 consecutive months.
What’s more, all of these corporate tax breaks have drained the state’s coffers of millions of dollars that could have been spent on schools, highways and medical care for people without health insurance.
These inconvenient facts could cause some problems for Republicans in the 2010 race for governor.
The Democratic nominee will probably say at every opportunity: "You gave away the state treasury to your lobbyist friends and said we’d get all these new jobs in return. Where are the jobs?"
That’s a question that could be difficult to answer.
Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report, an Internet news service at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .