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Ed Driscoll

Newsweek’s Deep Dish Chicago-Style Depression Lust

March 29th, 2011 - 6:58 am

Late 2008 was the first shockwave of the Great Recession, and simultaneously, the high point of Hopenchange. In other words, those days shortly after Obama was elected, but before he actually took office and had to be bothered with all that pesky governing interrupting his jet-set vacations and rock star preening.

Having elected a man with no executive experience, whom they curiously compared in cover stories with FDR, the MSM seemed almost giddy to create a similarly Dickensian atmosphere for Obama to begin governing in, the better to make the inevitable and swift recovery sure to come seem all the more dazzling. (Plus ça hope & change.) That was the theme in the air amongst many journalists at the time, a perverse trend that Virginia Postrel dubbed in December of 2008 as “Depression Lust, and Depression Porn:”

If anyone should fear a Depression, it should be journalists, who are already the equivalent of 1980s steelworkers. But instead, they seem positively giddy with anticipation at the prospect of a return to ’30s-style hardship–without, of course, the real hardship of the 1930s. (We’re all yuppies now.) The Boston Globe‘s Drake Bennett asked a bunch of people, including me, what a 21st-century Depression might look like. The results sounded pretty damned good to some people–a sure sign of an affluent society, or at least affluent commentators.

Be careful what you wish for.

Flash-forward to today, when unemployment is, at approximately 9.5 percent nationally, three percent higher than the 6.5 percent Postrel quotes at the end of her late 2008 post, and in some areas, far worse. In Chicago, they’re celebrating the milestone of unemployment dropping under nine percent

This morning, the Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS) released preliminary February 2011 unemployment figures for the 50 states (and Washington, DC), as well as 4 Census Regions and 9 Census Divisions. Unemployment rates in Chicago and the surrounding region continued to fall from their early 2010 peak. There were an estimated 354,500 unemployed residents in the 8-county Chicago Metro Division in a civilian labor force of 4.07 million in February, representing a seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 8.7% – down from nearly 11% a year ago and slightly below the statewide rate.

… But those numbers mask some far worse statistics, as reported yesterday by the Newsalert blog:

Chicago Now reports on some shocking facts about Chicago in comparison to other large cities:

Out of the largest U.S. cities, Chicago is number one when it comes to the unemployment rate for African Americans — 21.4 percent. That’s more than two and a half times the average for white people living in the same 10 cities.

The Beachwood Reporter’s Steve Rhodes has more:

“In Chicago, nearly 56 percent of African Americans at least 16 years old are without a job (either unemployed or not in the labor force) – the highest percentage of any race or ethnic group examined among the nation’s 10 largest cities.”

And with all of that as background, let’s explore the serious case of Depression Lust in the latest edition of Newsweek that Newsalert spotted. In an article titled “Chicago Steps Out –The Second City is finally hip. Now Rahm has to keep it rolling,” note what the magazine defines as oh-so hip:

Careening toward bankruptcy after 22 years under Mayor Richard Daley, the city has lost 200,000 inhabitants in the past decade. The racial tensions of the past have lessened palpably, but no one would say the potential of a future resurgence of the bad old days has vanished. But Daley also leaves behind a glittering metropolis that Chicagoans rightly love and outsiders can only envy.

* * *

And Chicago has lately come to see itself as a place whose inherent friendliness can now embrace all sorts of improbable invention and behavior. There is self-confidence, an upbeat feeling. Success breeds success. So, in between financial crises, Rahm Emanuel and other returning Obama crew members will have to make sure they don’t let the fizz fizzle. They seem to be working on just that.

* * *

None of these street artists can remember a time when Richard Daley wasn’t the mayor. They seem to have a good feeling about him, even if his administration had shied away from supporting juke events for kids, for fear any juvenile gathering would promote violence and crime. Gant-Man and the others beg to differ. They claim juke has pulled minority youth away from crime, that it has been a major factor in Chicago’s falling crime rate.

Maybe Rahm Emanuel will see it their way. Having suppressed his notorious pugnacity during a campaign full of low-comic challenges from spoiler candidates and a failed lawsuit claiming he wasn’t a bona fide resident, he now faces the real challenge of toughing out punishing deficits without hacking the life out of the vibrant city he has taken over from his revered predecessor. He will need some very fancy footwork to emerge victorious from the battleground ahead.

Newsweek is spinning so fast, you can feel the centrifugal force. And it really is spin, as we’ll explore on the next page.

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