Mike Klein Online

Michael Thurmond: We Can Claim Our Economic Destiny

It is well known in Georgia politics that you should never follow Michael Thurmond to the podium.  Not when he is speaking with passion about his primary passion, putting people back to work.

State labor commissioner by title, Thurmond is the unemployed people’s champion.  He saw a better future in career centers than in sending folks to the unemployment office.  So he threw out the old, depressing model and created a new model focused on getting ready to go back to work. Department of Labor Job Fairs attract thousands. One in Atlanta this year drew almost 17,000.

Thurmond is a straight answer, no bull kind of guy. This is what you get from a son and grandson of sharecroppers who found his way to a law degree, to the Georgia General Assembly, to twelve years as state labor commissioner and next year, most likely onto the ballot for higher office.

Wednesday he was straight to the point, telling a Georgia Public Policy Foundation luncheon the federal stimulus did too little for the private sector, especially small business, and challenging the state’s policy leaders to hold a jobs summit “so we can claim our economic destiny.”

15 Million Unemployed Americans

Thurmond told his audience, “As I speak … 15 million Americans are officially unemployed.  As I speak … 500,000 Georgians are unemployed. As I speak … eight million Americans have lost their jobs since December 2007.  There is a six-to-one ratio for job seekers to every job.  What that means, my friends, is five of those job seekers are looking for something that does not presently exist.”

Thurmond’s reality check address came just hours after Georgia State University’s Robinson Business School Economic Forecasting Center predicted the state’s jobless storm will continue through next year and likely beyond.  Dreary is the only way to describe these predictions:

Georgia will lose nearly 215,000 jobs this year plus another 60,000 next year before a possible very slight job growth up tick in 2011.  GSU predicts statewide official unemployment will settle at 10.6% next year and continue at an almost equally depressing 10.2% during 2011.  That means the percentage of Georgians who are unemployed today will be about the same in two years.

“The folks who are unemployed, they don’t care where the answer comes from,” Thurmond said. “All they want to do is support themselves and their family.”   This is becoming increasingly hard for one unexpected category – the unemployed white male worker.

White Males “Structurally Unemployed”

Two years ago white males were the smallest subgroup of unemployed Georgians. Today they are the largest after massive construction and manufacturing job losses. Several industries virtually collapsed, carpet, textiles and autos among them.  White males are 56% of all Georgians who lost jobs during the past 24 months, which Thurmond now describes as a “Hecession.”

Thurmond declared this group is “structurally unemployed.”  They have outdated skill sets but unemployed white males are least likely to take advantage of new training through programs like Georgia Works at the Department of Labor and the state’s vast technical colleges system.  Men are only 28% of the technical college enrollment.

This week finds Thurmond again on the road. He will be in north Georgia Thursday where carpet and other manufacturing sustained the region for six decades.  Today the region struggles.  He meets people everywhere who have lost jobs, lost health care, lost homes and some have lost family. “Many lose hope and faith.  The only question they ask me is, can you help me find a job?”

500 Applicants for One Position

Atlanta metro region paralysis is obvious. The region has at least ten years of excess unoccupied office space, along with thousands of unmarketable homes and thousands more ready-to-build lots that were abandoned by builders, often because banks foreclosed.  A Georgia state agency that recently posted a vacancy had more than 500 applicants for one position.

Thurmond’s call for a state jobs summit is likely to occur in some form.  He was not specific about timetable, format, agenda or outcome.  One thing you can be sure about, however, is that while Michael Thurmond has his current job, he will continue to innovate new ways to help people find employment and he will continue to spread his message to every corner of Georgia.

“We will not forget that America has faced tougher economic challenges than the ones we face today,” Thurmond said. “Every time we have faced these challenges we have overcome them.  We are one Georgia, one great Georgia, one great people, one America that is under God, that is indivisible, that cannot be sliced and diced but one America that offers liberty and jobs to all.”

Additional Resources

GDOL Georgia Works:   http://www.dol.state.ga.us/spotlight/sp_georgia_works.htm

Technical Colleges of Georgia:   http://www.tcsg.edu/

GSU Forecasting Center:   http://www.robinson.gsu.edu/efc

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November 18, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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