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.