Alan Reynolds

Lou Uchitelle of The New York Times has made a career of writing passionately about the plight of laid-off workers. This is not a challenging journalistic mission. Even at the peak of economic booms, it is never difficult to find laid-off workers who face difficulties and are delighted to tell reporters what they think about the boss.

Uchitelle recently penned "The End of the Line as Detroit Workers Know It." For any reporter determined to find bad news in the labor market, Michigan was definitely the place to be. The February unemployment rate was 4.5 percent for the nation but 6.6 percent for Michigan, which had lost 55,300 jobs in a year. For the nation, payroll employment was 2 million higher than a year before. No other state lost jobs.

"The End of the Line" noted that 42,300 people left Michigan last year, which sounds like a sensible thing to do since every other state was adding jobs. To Uchitelle, however, nothing and nobody should ever move. Change is just too scary. "The exodus," in his wild imagination, "is reminiscent of the Dust Bowl migration from the prairie states in the 1930s."

Michigan's Dust Bowl experience cannot be blamed entirely on the auto industry, which is now mainly located in states like Tennessee, Kentucky, California, Texas and Missouri. Before the recent layoffs, Michigan accounted for only 22 percent of all jobs in motor vehicles and parts. Employment in motor vehicles and parts was 1,023,000 this February, down 54,100 from 1,077,100 in February 2006. That is, Michigan lost more jobs than were lost in the nationwide auto and parts industry.

Uchitelle is determined to convert Michigan's unique job woes into what he has called a "festering national crisis." To do that, he simply had to do what New York Times economic journalists do best -- make up numbers.

"Across America," wrote Uchitelle, "more than 30 million people have been forced out of jobs since the early 1980s, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and regaining lost incomes has not been easy. Nearly 50 million new jobs have been created over that same period, according to the bureau, so there are always new opportunities, but more often than not at lower pay."

Comparing nearly 50 million new jobs with "more than 30 million" lost implies a net job gain of less than 20 million since 1984 (the first year these data about displaced workers were collected). In reality, employment rose from 105 million in 1984 to 144.4 million in 2006 -- a net gain of 39.4 million.

Alan Reynolds

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