2003: AMERICA TEETERING ON RECESSION - Let The Hunkering Begin


By Bob Weaver

Unemployment is on the rise in most of the Mountain State. Calhoun County leading the pack, with fewer than ever opportunities for employment.

Calhoun has one of the highest unemployment records in the nation, in February at 23.1 percent.

The state Bureau of Employment Programs says unemployment increased in most West Virginia counties in February, pushing the state's overall jobless rate up four-tenths of a percentage point to six-point-eight percent.

The unemployment numbers are based on workers who are currently receiving unemployment benefits, which generally ends after six months.

The unemployment numbers have never accurately reflected the economic conditions in West Virginia. The numbers look better when tens of thousands of people leave the state.

While unemployment is driven by seasonal work and the ups and downs of markets, the current unemployment numbers are driven by actual elimination of jobs.

Last year at least 35,000 jobs left the state, according to the WV Chamber of Commerce. That trend continues to affect the region, in rural counties where workers are driving 100-150 miles a day to jobs.

In an eight county area adjacent Calhoun, about 8,000 jobs have been eliminated.

Forty-nine counties reported higher unemployment in February than in January. Jobless rates dropped in Boone, Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers and Tyler counties, while Logan County's unemployment rate was unchanged at eight-point-two percent.

West Virginia's current financial problems are driven by the loss of taxes, related to the loss of producing workers, a situation that has been reported around America. Some states are near bankruptcy.

Economic development groups in rural West Virginia have few if any leads of bringing employment to their region. It has been almost two years since Calhoun had a lead.

Meanwhile, the nation is rapidly moving toward a major recession.

The Bush administration is cutting funds for social and health services, most of which are directed toward basic needs. Programs financing infrastructure in Appalachia have been reduced, while offering a tax break to the wealthy. Most West Virginia residents would get a few dollars or nothing from the current Bush tax break proposal. Million dollar income citizens would receive refunds of about $92,000 per million.

The Bush administration also wants to privatize parts of Medicare, turn it over to HMO-like businesses, in order to provide medication for retirees. Prescription drug costs continue to skyrocket, becoming unaffordable for most families without good insurance plans. Many people in Calhoun County, with one of the lowest per capita and median incomes in America (and most with no insurance) have monthly drug bills from $500 to $1300 a month.

There is little challenge to drug companies, nor for that matter insurance companies, to change. We spend more for health care than any country in the world, yet more and more are falling through the crack, and working people or their employers cannot afford the premiums.

Insurance for a family, according to BC/BS, will cost over $16,000 annually by 2006.

America's deficit, recently pulled into balance, is reaching trillion dollar levels, out of control.

The bludgeoning of workers, retirement programs and small businesses by American corporations and their corporate crooks, absent from the papers for months and rarely mentioned by TV's talking heads. Few have been punished, few gone to jail. Certainly political leaders and government officials who turned their heads during the Enron and WorldCom-like debacles, have mostly gone unscathed.

GATT, NAFTA and the Word Trade Organization - free trade - is the "best thing for America," President Bush said. Yes, many Democratic leaders support it too.

During these months of national unity and patriotism, few want to hear about the transgressions of leaders, the situation polarized over party lines.

Nonetheless, it is every American's problem.

The curse is the lack of opportunities. The blessing in the hills has always been the ability to hunker down.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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