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Across the U.S., All Eyes on Health Reform, Economy

At the end of an especially eventful August recess, Jeffrey Brown speaks with reporters and analysts from around the nation about how the economy and health care debates are shaping up.

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    Now, in what's turned out to be an unusually restless August when it comes to debates about the economy and health care, we turn to reports from around the nation. Jeffrey Brown has our survey.


    And for that, we've asked four journalists and hosts of local PBS public affairs programs to join us: Frederica Freyberg of "Here and Now" on Wisconsin Public Television; Gene Grant of "New Mexico in Focus" on KNME in Albuquerque; Nell McCormack Abon of "Smart Talk" on Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's, WITF; and from Tampa, Rob Lorei of WEDU's "Florida This Week."

    Well, Frederica Freyberg, we talked earlier on the program about Ben Bernanke, his recent pronouncement that the economy appeared to be leveling out, even as he cautioned about some continuing problems. How does that jibe with where you are?

  • FREDERICA FREYBERG, Wisconsin Public TV:

    Well, that's what they say kind of on the coasts. Here in the heartland, job loss still really hurts. Just this week, we learned that Mercury Marine, a company in Fond du Lac, expects to move 2,000 jobs out of the state of Wisconsin.

    Now, our unemployment rate is at 8.7 percent, but there are some pockets in this state, particularly in the region where the G.M. plant closed this summer, where the unemployment rate is at 18.5 percent. So if this recovery is coming, I think we here in Wisconsin say, "Bring it on."


    And, Nell Abom, what's happening there?


    Well, Governor Rendell this week said, as a matter of fact, that business expansions are growing at a greater rate than business closings. For the very first time in a year, we have more job openings than we have jobs being lost.

    But at the same time, he cautioned this is not a prediction for the future. Right now that looked pretty good. But at the same time, we have an unemployment rate of about 8.5 percent. And similarly, we have certain pockets, like the Philadelphia area, that's 10 percent unemployment. We have State College, which is where Penn State University is. That's at about 5.8 percent.

    But there are pockets all around the state where it's 9 percent, almost 10 percent, and those people are really hurting. Since December of 2007, the beginning of this recession, Pennsylvania has lost 183,000 jobs.

    So it's significant to the people who've lost those jobs or who are on the cutting edge. Harley-Davidson, a big employer here in central Pennsylvania, 2,000 jobs they're talking about leaving. That would be a substantial hit both to the psyche and to the reality of people being unemployed.


    All right. And moving west, Gene Grant in Albuquerque, any signs of a leveling out, out there?


    I'm not so sure about leveling out. I think what we've got going on here is a couple of things. We've got some very significant revenue shortfalls coming up with our state coffers to the tune of about $450 million-plus. We've got Medicaid cuts being proposed at about $300 million. We've got an unemployment rate still hovering around 6 percent, so we've been pretty steady.

    Housing, it's been interesting. One of the local realtor groups here is predicting or were saying that they've got about 1,000 homes in the Albuquerque area that have come off the market, and they're hoping that that's going to have some hope for increase in price at some point soon.

    But it's always interesting when you talk about things like economic confidence in a place like New Mexico. We have some very serious economic challenges. I mean, we're talking about the 45th state in per capita income.

    So, you know, when you talk about confidence and, you know, signs of things either rising or falling, you've got to look and you've got to — you've got to really root around the nooks and crannies, but it all seems to come out to a bit of a wash right now.


    All right. And, Rob Lorei in Tampa, what are you seeing?


    Well, Jeffrey, I feel like I'm playing "Top This," but, you know, Florida has a 10.7 unemployment rate. Florida was always golden in that, in the last 30 years since I've lived here, our economy has gotten better and better and better.

    In the last two years, with the recession, we've seen that our unemployment rate is outpacing the national average by a percentage. The pillars of Florida's economy include tourism, construction for both housing and commercial, and also agriculture, and two of those pillars are in the tank, and we don't see any sign that they're going to recover.

    One economist said this week that, when Florida recovers, it's going to take a year beyond the national recovery.