Michigan and Alaska have tied for first in national unemployment — but Democratic leaders in the Legislature now propose a Carter-era gizmo with which we could seize the undisputed lead.
The Dems almost certainly know that the minimum wage hike they propose would hurt the people whom unemployment already most seriously afflicts: youngsters with little employment experience, few skills and substandard schooling.
Entry-level people denied work by a higher minimum wage have little hope. They just can't turn to headhunters or flit off to high-tech jobs in Chicago or the Carolinas. Nor do they usually possess the computers or know-how to freelance in the e-economy.
Perhaps the Dems simply are laying smoke to divert public attention from their stronghold's latest scandal: 700 laid-off Detroit city workers vs. a brand-new tax-funded Lincoln Navigator for the mayor's wife.
Most likely, though, it's just the opening gambit of the Lansing political year: a standard let's-make-the-GOP-look-like-heartless-ogres ploy, knowing the Republicans will block the new minimum wage.
Whatever the case, the proposal and its timing is stupid — criminally stupid. In investors' eyes, it makes Lansing look just like it did in the bad old Blanchard years: 12 percent unemployed and a government ever eager to load new social costs onto business.
The proposal sends investors — the people this state needs most — precisely the wrong signal. It erects metaphorical "Keep Out" signs all along the border.
Perhaps these games of political tag (in which the GOP also gleefully engages) were no big deal during the 1990s when Michigan was No. 1 nationally in job growth and its unemployment rate was well below the national average.
Today it's different. Michigan families and small businesses live life on the edge — the ragged edge — in an economy that's foundering in the wake of a driving national recovery. Michigan's unemployment, thanks in part to postponed tax cuts, keeps rising while the job market grows in neighboring industrial states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin
Lansing officials profess to feel the pain of the unemployed and owners of failing firms, but those officials aren't doing the suffering. In the best bipartisan tradition, the ladies and gentlemen of Lansing have thoroughly insulated themselves from the flinty realities of job-seeking, retirement planning and health care costs. Our leaders lose no sleep about rent or house payments or making about the next payroll.
If there's no payroll money, big deal. They borrow.
Unfortunately, such practices have caused Michigan's bond rating to begin tanking. Lansing's bipartisan eagerness to put off tough decisions through tax shifts, fee hikes and accounting games seems to be running into a wall.
Plainly, Michigan's deficit exists because — in the interests of political survival and easy living — Lansing's leadership perennially ducks some very difficult choices that they nonetheless pay themselves very, very handsomely to make.
The fact is, there's no more wiggle room nowadays for political game playing. Lansing needs to get real and do it fast.
Lansing needs to cut taxes sharply to encourage business investment.
Lansing needs to cut state spending even more sharply.
Otherwise, just like before, the citizens will find someone else that can.