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Opinion Playing Politics With Unemployment

RALEIGH – Not so long ago, the high unemployment numbers in North Carolina led to a single, consistent refrain.

It's Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue's fault, claimed the missives from the state Republican Party and its various policy allies.

Then Republicans took control of the North Carolina General Assembly, and the unemployment song became louder and rather discordant.

The state Democratic Party and its various leaders, including Perdue, added a new refrain: It's the GOP legislature's fault. When Republican legislators passed a budget that cut state spending and state government jobs, Democrats wrote a few more lyrics.

The July job numbers saw North Carolina's unemployment rate bump above 10 percent for the first time in a year. The 10.1 percent unemployment rate is a full percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.

The competing claims about the numbers' meaning were predictable.

The state Republican Party blamed Perdue and her "failed economic policies, paired with her lack of objection to President Obama’s agenda" leading to a "hemorrhaging of jobs in North Carolina." State Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said Perdue offered up "the same failed policies that drove our state into a financial ditch."

Perdue responded that private-sector jobs grew by 6,900, meaning that GOP-sponsored cuts to government jobs were largely responsible for the increase. "The severe cuts to education, including teacher positions, inflicted by the Republican legislature are taking their toll on our classrooms and our workforce," the governor said.

Neither side appears very interested in the truth.

The truth is the that large portions of the South, whether led by Republicans or Democrats, have been disproportionately affected by the recession.

With the exception of Virginia, all of our neighboring states have unemployment rates similar to our own. South Carolina's jobless rate in July was 10.9 percent. The jobless numbers in Georgia, Mississippi and Florida are as bad or worse than North Carolina's.

The reason is pretty obvious. It has little to do tax rates or budget cuts.

Southern states including North Carolina have yet to recover from three decades of shedding low-skill textile and other manufacturing jobs. Workers who had moved out of those jobs and into service-sector jobs were more likely to be hurt by the national recession.

One of the more absurd claims to come out of the jobless finger-pointing involves our northern neighbor. Virginia, with its 6.1 percent unemployment rate, has become the GOP's It Girl for all that is right with business and taxation.

Those praising Virginia's virtues apparently haven't studied that state's employment picture in any detail.

In its southern counties, the jobless rate is similar to our own. In northern counties surrounding that bulwark of private-sector job creation -- Washington, D.C. -- unemployment is under 5 percent. One place that the recession apparently hasn't touched is the federal government, it contractors and others who depend on the federal tax gravy train for jobs.

But why let the facts get in the way the political gamesmanship?


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