Saturday, December 27, 2008

Stuck in Columbus

One of the defining features of the current economic crisis is the large number of Americans unable to relocate for purposes of gainful employment. The "Global Squeeze" is undermining domestic geographic mobility with horrifying results:

In Ohio, which has shed 100,000 jobs in the past year, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and his budget team spend a lot of time delivering bad news to constituents and plotting ways to wring money from the federal government. He announced $640 million in cuts for the budget year ending June 30, for a total of $1.9 billion since the economic crisis began.

"We're not crying wolf. This is real," Strickland said in an interview in his statehouse office, pointing to charts that project the most serious erosion of state income in 40 years and a two-year budget deficit of $7.3 billion. Revenue shortfalls in the upcoming two-year budget could amount to about 25 percent of the state's discretionary spending.

Strickland recently picked up the telephone and called Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff. When he heard the recorded voice of his former congressional colleague, he left a message: "Rahm, it's Ted. You've never failed me and I need $5 billion."

The despair in Columbus, Ohio is shocking. My image of the city is one of a university town with a growing tech scene attracting a number of talented graduates from Pittsburgh schools. That Columbus still exists. The region is undergoing the same kind of globalization transformation that Chicago endured during the 1980s. Contrast Chicago's East Side neighborhood with that of Lake View, as Ted McClelland does to open his book "The Third Coast", and you'll begin to understand where Columbus is heading.

The New Argonauts of Columbus aren't living in the areas with boarded up houses and long lines of people seeking government assistance. If the regional economy were to collapse, then these economic nomads might move as far away as China. But those lacking a high school diploma, let alone any college experience, have no such options. They have nowhere to go or lack the means to pull up the stakes and head to North Dakota. The Mobility Paradox is coming to fruition.

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