Patchwork Nation: Unemployment Rate Stories From Very Different Places

BY Anna Shoup  April 2, 2010 at 3:09 PM EDT

A lot of economic numbers and letters have been flying around this recession: unemployment rates, foreclosure rates, and L-, U- and W-shaped recessions. Patchwork Nation even has its own Economic Hardship Index. On Friday, the March unemployment report adds more to the mix.

But all these numbers represent people, and people relate to them differently. Of course, personal experiences have a lot to do with the differences. But another factor is the community where one resides.

Consider the story of Sandy Belknap, a Patchwork Nation blogger who lives in Nashua, N.H., which is a wealthy “Monied ‘Burb.” She was fortunate to find a job during this recession.

“After I lost my job in early 2009, I paid close attention to the unemployment numbers. The numbers felt very personal and made me feel not so alone,” she writes in an e-mail. “Now that I’m employed, I still ‘hear’ the numbers, but, I no longer ‘feel’ them. It’s a weird feeling, especially after being on both sides of the ‘numbers.’”

Overall, the “Monied ‘Burb” counties in the United States had an unemployment rate of 9.84 percent in January (the latest data available on the county level). It was only 7.8 percent in Hillsborough County, where Nashua is located.

On another side of the situation is someone who helps other people in tight spots. Eric Madkins of St. Louis, our big-city “Industrial Metropolis,” says he looks constantly at the unemployment numbers. He works as a senior housing director at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, helping people stay in their homes. The region has been hit hard by the housing crisis.

Madkins sees links between unemployment and other economic indicators. “The correlation of unemployment and housing/foreclosure is a dyad that is hurting the economy both locally and nationally,” he writes in an e-mail. “As homeowners confront unemployment, they are fighting the battle of remaining in their home.”

The community type with the highest unemployment rate remains “Minority Central,” which has large African-American populations. In these counties, the unemployment rate was 12 percent in January.

Edgecombe and Nash Counties in North Carolina are both “Minority Central” communities and have some of the state’s highest unemployment rates. When we traveled there last week, people told us about how they are looking to reshape the local economy since manufacturing, textiles, and agriculture have scaled back.

Unemployment is still a big topic even in places where the unemployment rate is relatively low. One community type that isn’t suffering as much, at least on paper, is the “Mormon Outposts” – counties with a high concentration of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But on the ground, even the small increases that compound over time are distressing.

Terry McCurdy is a Patchwork Nation blogger from Twin Falls, Idaho, which is a representative community for the “Mormon Outposts.” He’s also owner of a copier dealership, Magic Valley Business Systems, and he watches the unemployment numbers as he keeps in touch with other owners in the area.

“The consensus is that [unemployment] is the biggest issue facing our community right now,” McCurdy writes in an e-mail. “I hope the time of year and the increased optimism will positively affect the rate in the next few months.”

This column is excerpted from the Christian Science Monitor’s Patchwork Nation site.