Saturday, April 4, 2009

Punishment for Putting The Automakers in the Naughty Chair

A wondering from the EcoWonder...
In case you haven't heard, the national unemployment rate is 8.5%. Around here in Michigan, that sounds too good to be true. Why?

Our statewide unemployment rate is 12%, but if you're like me and live in the metro-Detroit area? Recently our unemployment rate rocketed to over 20%. That's right, 1 out of every 5 people are unemployed in my hometown. 1 in 5 of my neighbors, 1 in 5 of my kid's friend's parents, 1 in 5 of the faces I see at the middle school, 1 in 5 of the parents I see withdrawing their kids from preschool to save money, 1 in 5 that can't afford to sign their son or daughter up for sports this spring season and so on and so on. It's heartbreaking. Everyone has a resume for you to pass along, a college student that can't find an internship or even a summer job, everyone has a story to tell.

For those against the automakers getting a bailout, I can understand. They made bad decisions, they made cars and trucks no one wanted to buy and they completely ignored peak oil, carbon emissions and rising gas prices. They should be punished.

Unfortunately, a by-product of putting the auto makers in the naughty chair is the shuttering of local businesses. That is the true national crisis. Not the automakers getting or not getting a bailout. While the major news outlets dwell on the national anger and outcry that The Big 3 might be getting a bailout, the local business quietly closes its doors, turns the sign to "closed" and sweeps the floor for one last time. When the Big 3 lays off workers, closes plants or cuts a shift, local businesses pay the price.

The candy store that had been in business since 1945, the hardware store that had been on main street since my father-in-law was a small boy, the little hole-in-the-wall diner with the best stuffed french toast ever and even the train depot that ran a mystery dinner event in the evenings and affordable field trips for kids by day? For rent signs in the window, dust gathering on the remaining shelves and broken glass in the parking lot. They have all closed, along with hundreds, if not thousands of pizza places, bowling alleys, dentists, clothing stores, insurance agencies, movie theaters, drug stores and gift shops owned by my friends, my neighbors, my fellow community residents.

Metro-Detroit is a ghost town. A land of vacant storefronts, empty homes and broken dreams. Buying local never meant so much to so many. The family that scrapes together a few extra dollars to go out to dinner and leaves an extra large tip for the waitress with only one table. A trip to the farmer's market in the middle of winter to buy flour from the local mill even though an unopened bag already sits at the ready in the pantry. Pizza, that costs $3 more than a pie from the big franchise hawking them for $5 each, tastes so much better when it's from the little store at the corner.

I beg you to buy local, the businesses in your community beg you to buy local, the environment and the green movement begs you to buy local. No matter where you are, from east to west coast, there is a small business counting on you. Your unemployment rate might not yet be 20%, but take precaution today. Instead of being angry at the big banks or the Big 3, leave a nice tip for your waiter, buy some bread from the corner bakery or get your new tires from the little mechanic down the road. They need a bail out too.


ruchi said...

This is heart breaking. I wasn't pro the auto bailout, and I'm still not, but I appreciate the damage it's causing Michigan.

Still, I wonder if the money spent to the bailout wouldn't have been better spent simply bailing out Detroit. Putting people to work rebuilding the city, hiring more teachers, etc, opening job retraining centers. It probably wouldn't have been appealing to Washington, because how do you sell the federal government bailing out a city, but I think it might have done more good.

EcoBurban said...

Ruchi, I agree. I'm against the bailout in theory. Those business, both big and small, that make bad business decisions (read: Hunmer) shouldn't be "too big to fail". However, there are so many businesses tied to the big 3 in our area and across the country that the ripple effect is going to be huge. Even for Ford, who is not asking for a bail out. Many of the same suppliers that produce for GM and Chrysler, supply Ford. So, when GM either declares bankruptcy or goes under, so will these small suppliers, which will leave Ford high and dry. All of these small suppliers that will close their doors will then cause the local pizza place, the dry cleaner, the bank, the local newspaper and so on to close their doors as well.

I do wish the bail out had a better provision to protect the OEM suppliers, small businesses and other organizations tied to the industry. I can't see how the government sees fit to protect GM, but not the family who owns the pizza place down the street. If the pizza place fails, that family loses their home, their college fund and future. I'm pretty sure GM's Rick Wagoner isn't homeless today, even though he's out of a job.

Sigh... I wish I could move to London! :)

Daisy said...

This is the hardest part of seeing the automakers fail. It's not seeing the big CEOs and their assistants lose their jobs, it's the ripple effect that hits everyone within a stone's throw. Bankruptcy might be more effective; it might keep them in business and let them restructure more effectively.

Heather @ SGF said...

And buying local not only helps our friends, family, and neighbors, but it helps us to feel more connected to our communities. Go local!

Margaret's Ramblings said...

Tis is such a powerful post telling it like it is. I hope you don't mind but I am going to ask my visitors to my blog to come oover here and read it. It makes your heart break.


Anonymous said...

This is very sad, I agree buy where you live and your country etc, sounds harsh but if every one does that then it will look, like the old saying 'if everyone took care of their own back garden, then the world will be right'.

Green Bean said...

Fantastic post! Truly, we need to think long and hard about our actions, our purchasing choices (or lack thereof). When we buy something - whether its cold medicine, or a burrito, or a new waffle maker (which I not so secretly want) - we really need to think about the impact of our dollars. The power not just for evil but for good. For keeping our neighbors employed, parents of our children's friends in their homes. It may not be as bad here, in Northern California, as it is in Detroit but I'd said we're approaching it. If you slow down on the main road along the railroad tracks and look at the strip malls that border you on either side, at least half of the storefronts are vacant.

Thank you for this very important reminder!

daisymum7 said...

Hi I popped over from Margarets Ramblings and you are so right Buy local - it makes so much sense on so many levels, we are so blessed we live in a little village on the outskirts of a city in Qld Australia truly the lucky country at the moment. But still here we need to remember that if we don't support our local newsagent we will have to trip out of our valley to buy our paper, and our cards and our staionery supplies. COngratulations on your post I will add Detroit to our prayers and pray that many many people read you post, and act on it even just once a day.


the pleasures of homemaking said...

I came over from Margarets Ramblings and live in the U.S. This is so heartbreakingly sad! The only thing that made me pro an auto bailout was the hope that it would keep people in their jobs. It's not as bad here in the South (yet). Actually you wouldn't really know there was a recession with the way restaurants and stores are busy! People must be in denial! So reading about Detroit is almost like reading about another country. Very eye opening post for me.


Midlife Jobhunter said...

My husband worked on the line at Ford and at Hydramatic in the late 70's, early 80's. His parents and extended family all are longtime GM workers. We hope for a good future for all Michiganders. They so deserve it.

Buying local is so a key our community success.

Indrani said...

This recession is affecting in different ways. Hope it is over soon.

I came via Margaret's.

JessTrev said...

I so agree - we just ate at our local pizza place for this very reason. Times are tough - apparently, if you factor in people who are working part time (not by choice, cause they were forced to), unemployment is up at more like 15%. Heartfelt and well-written post -- thank you!

Anonymous said...

It was so sad to read this about this once great city. When my grandfather first emigrated (1920) he worked in Detroit, before moving to Canada, just acrosss the border in Windsor Ontario. He later worked as a tunnel detective between the countries. By coincidence my husband also had a relative who was a lawyer in Detroit about the same time, so we both feel a tenuous link with you. I do hope things will soon turn up for you. Thinking of you.


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