On a three-day bus tour through the Midwest this week, President Obama expressed confidence the region’s fragile economy would show gradual improvement over the next year.
Depending on the vantage point, that has different meanings.
In Iowa, the unemployment rate hovered at 6.0 percent in June,” a rate that “is much higher than Iowans are comfortable with,” said David Swenson, who teaches economics at Iowa State University, during a roundtable discussion Wednesday on PBS News Hour.
In Michigan, such a figure would be cause for relief. The state holds the Midwest’s highest current unemployment rate at 10.5 percent. It also endured the region’s highest peak unemployment rate, reaching 14.1 percent in September 2009.
The loss of manufacturing jobs has been a significant theme in Michigan and Ohio, where the unemployment rate hovered at 8.8 percent in June. Agriculture has protected the economies of the western Midwest state to some extent. But now, manufacturing losses have spread to places like Minnesota and Iowa, two of the three states Obama visited.
“Manufacturing is a big component of the Iowa economy,” Swenson said. “We know that manufacturing has taken an extra-special hit.”
Though unemployment rates differ by as much as 4.5 percentage points throughout Midwestern states, one common thread is that all are leery of a recent uptick in their rates following declines over the past year-and-a-half. Minnesota’s rate crept upward to 6.7 percent in June after reaching a low of 6.5 percent two months earlier. Illinois’ rate stood at 9.2 in June after falling to 8.8 percent in March.
“People say that manufacturing is coming back, and it is coming back to a certain extent, but there are still jobs being lost,” Micki Maynard, senior editor of Changing Gears, said on the NewsHour segment.
“You need a bulk of jobs to come back and replace the jobs that were lost,” she said. “There was something like 500,000 jobs lost in Michigan alone during this recession, and there really aren’t the magic bullets that are going to create those thousands of jobs that can come back, so those people can go back to work.”