Is this a recovery?
Hidden unemployment, crisis in education funding
Published Dec 23, 2009 3:57 PM
A Dec. 16 Detroit News article confirms what most working people in Detroit
have been saying for some time: The official employment figures issued by the
federal government do not give an accurate description of the depth of the
economic crisis in the city. According to the article, the actual unemployment
rate in Detroit is closer to 50 percent, rather than the nearly 28 percent
reported over the last several months.
Detroit has been seriously affected by the economic crisis because of the large
number of people who were employed in the automotive and steel industries.
General Motors Corporation, which was one of the largest employers in the
Detroit metropolitan area, has trimmed hundreds of thousands of jobs over the
last two decades. The other two auto firms, Chrysler and Ford, have also
eliminated tens of thousands of jobs in the last few years.
The massive elimination of jobs in these industries has had a tremendous impact
on other sectors of the economy, including retail, health care, entertainment,
culture, housing, education and public service. This ripple effect is clearly
demonstrated in Detroit and the entire state of Michigan, where job cuts have
been carried out on a broad level.
According to University of Michigan Professor George Fulton, who analyzes
employment data for the state of Michigan, a broader definition of joblessness
is needed to get a more objective view of the state’s economic situation.
In the official calculations of employment data, those who are working
part-time, those who have become discouraged and are no longer actively seeking
jobs, and people returning to school because of the economic situation are not
factored into the overall rate of unemployment.
The article reports: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that for
the year that ended in September, Michigan’s official unemployment rate
was 12.6 percent. Using the broadest definition of unemployment, the state
unemployment rate was 20.9 percent, or 66 percent higher than the official
rate. Since Detroit’s official rate for October was 27 percent, that
broader rate pushes the city’s rate to as high as 44.8
Impact on education
Detroit has witnessed a reduction in enrollment of approximately 100,000
students over the last decade. Many of these youth left the city when their
families moved to pursue employment. With the loss of students, it is
inevitable that schools will be closed down and teachers, clerical workers,
custodians, social workers and counselors will lose their jobs.
Another major contributing factor to the decline in enrollment in the public
school system is the “charterization” of public education in
Detroit and the surrounding communities. Over the last decade the notion that
charter and private schools are inherently superior to public institutions has
been advanced through the corporate media, private corporations and segments of
both the Republican and Democratic parties.
Although there is no empirical scientific evidence proving that charter schools
provide better curricula and get better results than their public counterparts
— in fact, some studies suggest just the opposite — the movement
toward privatization of education is well underway. Even the Obama
administration is firmly on record in support of charter schools and merit pay
Both the expansion of charter schools and the policy of merit pay undermine
unions, which are often characterized by the corporate media as bad for student
achievement. The onus for good or bad academic performance in the public
schools is often blamed on teachers and parents. Yet the drastic cutbacks in
public education funding by the states is very rarely taken into consideration
by the corporate media when they address the problems of school
A new initiative of the Obama administration is “Race to the Top,”
a national education policy which encourages the charterization of public
schools. In Michigan, the legislative body in the capital of Lansing passed a
major education reform bill that was a prerequisite to receiving $400 million
in federal funding under the Obama administration.
Highlights of the recent legislation, which was rushed through to meet an
end-of-2009 deadline, include the expansion of what is called
“high-quality charter schools.” The state is given the green light
to take over up to 5 percent of schools that are labeled as performing poorly.
In addition, the new so-called reform legislation allows some professionals to
gain teaching certification without training in education, and it allows school
districts to give merit pay to teachers using federally mandated school
performance standards. (Detroit Free Press, Dec. 20)
Unions representing school educators have opposed this new legislation, saying
that it undermines their collective bargaining rights and capacity to win
decent contracts for teachers. “This strips employees of their voice in
helping students in these struggling schools,” said Doug Pratt,
spokesperson for the Michigan Education Association. “It is completely
inappropriate.” (DFP, Dec. 20)
As this federal money was being offered, education funding in Michigan was
slashed by $350 million for the 2009-10 fiscal year. These cuts not only impact
Detroit — with its more than 80 percent African-American population
— but also the suburban communities, which are being forced to lay off
teachers, cut pay, close schools and eliminate academic and sports programs to
address the loss of funding.
School districts outside Detroit, including Dearborn, Highland Park, Livonia,
Bloomfield Township, Southfield and Lathrup Village, have been forced to make
recommendations that will close buildings, lay off educators and eliminate
transportation for students. Thousands of parents have rallied at school board
meetings in these communities to demand that cuts be halted. However, school
administrators and board members say they have no choice in light of the
drastic reductions in state funding.
The Oakland Press reports, “The Southfield Public Schools 2009 Citizens
Task Force on Declining Enrollment recommended a financial action plan to the
school board this month that calls for closing schools.” (Dec. 20)
Lathrup Village Mayor Frank Brock, along with Southfield Councilman Myron
Frasier, co-chaired the task force and recommended that the district close
Eisenhower Elementary, Leonhard Elementary, Thompson Middle School and
Southfield-Lathrup High School. Students from these schools would be
transferred to other buildings in the district.
Fight back program needed for jobs, quality education
Large protests against the cutbacks in school funding throughout the state have
been organized on a district-by-district basis. What is needed is a broader
program of struggle that can build coalitions across district lines and link
the reductions in school funding to the overall economic crisis facing the
Recent meetings of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures,
Evictions and Utility Shutoffs have discussed strategies to address the crisis.
Last month, the coalition urged people to pressure Gov. Jennifer Granholm to
impose a blanket moratorium on utility shutoffs for the winter. DTE Energy
routinely terminates services for more than 150,000 households every year.
Upcoming actions include the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally and
march in Detroit on Jan. 18. One of the major themes of the 2010 MLK Day
celebrations will be the need for a real jobs program throughout the
The coalition will take another delegation to Lansing for the governor’s
“State of the State” address in late January. The coalition is
still pushing for a declaration of economic emergency in Michigan. The state
has an official unemployment rate of 15 percent. But using the broader
definition of joblessness, actual figures have climbed above 20 percent.
The coalition also wants to address the draconian cuts in school funding by
working to build the March 4 national mobilization against the crisis in
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