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A halt in road construction could put tens of thousands of people out of work. Photo by Ladyheart agency:morguefile


Illinois Governor Pat Quinn says he’s calling the legislature back into session, and wants approval on  state money for capital construction. Without the money, Crain’s Chicago Business says more than 31,000 highway workers could lose their jobs starting June 17.

The first round of layoffs could be followed by 21,000 more across other departments, according to Crain’s, affecting workers involved with waste water projects and high-speed rail construction. The entire country added only 54 thousand new jobs in the month of May.

The news from Illinois comes on the heels of new numbers that show unemployed workers from the recent recession are staying out of work for much longer. Read Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard’s post on long-term unemployment for more.




The Wisconsin Supreme Court began hearings today on the state’s controversial public employee law. Its decision is eagerly awaited by union members and collective bargaining opponents alike.

Associated Press photo

Here’s a guide to help you understand what’s at stake.

Last month, the Dane County Circuit Court struck down the new law, saying Republican lawmakers violated the state’s open meetings regulations when they held hearings on the legislation.

Debate over the law sparked plenty of drama in Wisconsin, where thousands of protestors descended on the state capital in Madison.

Some called the protests as important to the labor movement as the sit-down strike at General Motors in Flint, Mich., in 1936 and 1937.

And Wisconsin isn’t alone: other states in our region passed legislation affecting state employees’ collective bargaining rights. Here’s our Q&A explaining what the issues mean.

Wisconsin readers: are you a state employee affected by the new law, or did you support its appeal? How do you view today’s hearings?

Five must-read stories on the Midwest economy

1) GM Tech Center Investment: General Motors said today it is investing $130 million in its technical center in Warren, Mich., and expects to add 25 jobs.

GM joined Ford and Chrysler with a good first quarter in 2011. Photo by Chris via Flickr.

The automaker will build an enterprise data center, and remodel an administrative building on the tech center campus. The move comes after the Warren City Council approved tax credits. GM also is getting a credit from the state of Michigan.


2) Union Law Before WI High Court: The Wisconsin Supreme Court is hearing an appeal today of a decision by a lower court to void a controversial new state law. The law stripped most unionized state employees of their collective bargaining rights. The lower court said Republicans in the state legislature didn’t obey open meeting requirements. Both union supporters and lawmakers want a quick decision so they can plot their next moves.

3) Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome: With summer in full swing, foreign tourists are showing up in Chicago and across the region. Cities are happy to have them visit, but they say the U.S. is losing out to countries that make tourist entry easier. Our partner station WBEZ looked at how foreign tourists could help boost the local economy.

4) Another Big Win For Indianapolis: Indianapolis has had its share of major sports events through the years, including the annual Indy 500 and the NCAA basketball playoffs. Now, Indianapolis will get to hold the Big Ten championship football game through 2015, beating out a bid by Chicago. Indianapolis already was tapped to hold the first championship game this year, on Dec. 3. Cities vie for these games because of hotel, restaurant and concessions revenue, as well as international exposure.

5) Casino Closer in Toledo Towns all over Ohio are going ahead with plans to build casinos. In Toledo, construction is about half finished, and developers say they’re on track to open in the second quarter of 2012. If it meets the deadline, it would be the first of the new crop to launch.

President Obama spoke to employees of a Chrysler assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio on Friday afternoon. In his speech, he declared the American auto industry “is back.”

Bridget Bodnar covered the event for our partner station Michigan Radio, and was kind enough to bring Changing Gears back audio of the president’s speech. You can listen to it below.

Photo by Bridget Bodnar/Michigan Radio

On Friday, President Obama shook hands with workers at a Chrysler auto plant in Toledo, Ohio, and told them they were “showing the world that American manufacturing and American industry is back.” Beyond the assembly plant, which makes the Jeep Wrangler, others weren’t so sure.

As the president spoke, the latest jobs numbers showed the nation’s unemployment rate crept upward to 9.1 percent while the economy added the fewest number of jobs in eight months. And the auto industry?

“People thought auto sales this year could be much stronger than they’re turning out to be,” Changing Gears senior editor Micki Maynard said during an appearance on “Here and Now” on Friday afternoon.

Chrysler repaid and restructured debt associated with the TARP bailout – a development Obama had come to Toledo to tout. But minimal job creation, a weak housing market and middling consumer confidence tempered the auto industry’s expectations.

Those factors, combined with high energy prices, are doing more than hampering the auto industry. They have broader implications. It “adds up to another possible mini-recession,” Maynard said.

Here’s the full segment from “Here and Now,” public radio’s daily news magazine.

This statistic from today’s dismal jobs report jumped out at us. The Labor Department says the average unemployed person in the United States is spending 39.7 weeks out of a job.

GM workers can breath a sigh of relief as the U.S. automaker plans to expand its work force. Photo courtesy of Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio.

According to the Economix blog in New York Times, that’s the longest since the department began keeping the statistic in 1948.

To be sure, the department changed the way it calculates the statistic in January, but even under its old method, May was still the longest time ever.

The Times says this raises concerns for a couple of reasons:

“The longer a person is unemployed, the less employable he or she becomes because of factors like stigma and skill deterioration. That means that the longer it takes to get Americans back to work, the further behind they’ll fall.”


“The social safety net for these workers is also fraying. Many of the long-term unemployed — who now constitute about 45 percent of all unemployed workers — have already had their jobless benefits run out.”

In another factor that’s of great interest to our region, the Times said, many unemployed people who have retrained for new careers have so far racked up student loan debts but not jobs.

President Obama, who was in Toledo today, recently discussed his concerns about unemployment with Stephen Clark of WXYZ-TV in Detroit.

If you’re not working, how long have you been looking? And if you recently landed something, how long did it take you?

A few months ago the Wider Opportunities for Women partnership came out with an intriguing look at how much money families really need to earn to support themselves. It was national, and I thought the lede to the New York Times story about it said it all: “Hard as it can be to land a job these days, getting one may not be nearly enough for basic economic security.”

The DC-based advocacy group has used public data for their report, and they’ve started parsing out the information locally. Today, they released data for Michigan. Here are the results:

A single worker in Michigan must make at least $12.24/hour, almost $26,000 a year, to be “economically secure”. That assumes the $12 an hour worker also has access to benefits. A single parent with a two kids must make at least $24.49 an hour, or almost $52,000 – again – with benefits – and for a family of two working full-time, that goes to $62,000.

According to the state of Michigan labor site, the state average wage is $20.64, or $42,930 a year. Raises some interesting questions about how folks are surviving, and what kinds of jobs need to be created throughout Michigan to support working families. Thoughts?

p.s. Here’s a Detroit Free Press article, which wins for the “no-duh” headline of the day that says: “New Study: You can’t live on minimum wage”. The WOW folks tell me Illinois data should be out shortly. We’ll report it from here.

Some good – but not great – news for northeast Ohio. Our partner station Ideastream reports today that a glitch in a reporting system led to an overly optimistic April home sales report. Revised numbers still show a 4.6 percent increase in sales from March.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped substantially in April and now ranks below the national average, according to Crain’s Cleveland. More than 100,000 have returned to the workforce over the past year across the state.

Also in Ohio, American Greetings will move its headquarters from Brooklyn 13 miles west to Westlake, reports The Plain Dealer. And the merger of AirTran and Southwest could mean fewer flight operations at the Akron-Canton Airport.

Elsewhere across the Midwest today: says the University of Chicago’s new $81 million library is more than an architectural feat. It’s a glimpse of the future for libraries, a topic that Changing Gears reporter Niala Boodhoo examined earlier this month.

Does Michigan’s new tax structure make fiscal sense? Michigan Radio received an answer to that question from Charles Ballard, a Michigan State University professor and author of “Michigan’s Economic Future.”

Caterpillar CFO Edward Rapp says the U.S. economy is ready to lift off, but that businesses need better direction from the government on upcoming policy developments before investing, according to the Associated Press.

Elmore Leonard, via Media Bistro

A movie based on a novel from author Elmore Leonard, a Detroit native, will be filmed in Michigan after being awarded $2.8 million in state tax credits. “Freaky Deaky” is the 14th of Leonard’s books to be turned into a movie, but the first to be filmed in his home state.

A new era began in Chicago this morning, when Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as the city’s 47th mayor. Emanuel is the first new mayor in Chicago since Richard M. Daley took office 22 years ago, and the former White House chief of staff made clear to the city what his first priorities will be.

“Today, more than any other time in our history, more than any other place in our country, the city of Chicago is ready for change,” Emanuel said during his inaugural address at Millenium Park.

Rahm Emanuel was sworn in as Chicago's 47th mayor by Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans this morning. (Photo: Getty Images/Frank Polich, courtesy of WBEZ.)

The 51-year-old father of three said he plans to tackle Chicago’s biggest problems: education, violence, the city’s financial problems and creating more jobs.

“New times demand new answers; old problems cry out for better results. This morning, we leave behind the old ways and old divisions and begin a new day for Chicago. I am proud to lead a city united in common purpose and driven by a common thirst for change,” Emanuel said.

“To do that, we must face the truth. It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create and keep the jobs of the future right here in Chicago.”

Said Emanuel, “The decisions we make in the next two or three years will determine what Chicago will look like in the next twenty or thirty.”

As he took office, Emanuel also praised the work of his predecessor, whose father, Richard J. Daley, served as Chicago’s mayor from 1955 through 1976. “Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley,” Emanuel said.

Most of Chicago’s top officials were in attendance at this morning’s event, as was Vice President Joseph Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.

You can watch the inauguration and Emanuel’s speech below, courtesy of WLS Chicago News ABC 7, or check out WBEZ’s coverage here.