As the summer of 2011 comes to an end, a lot of Coloradans are uneasy about what winter is going to be like. More specifically, they’re wondering if the summer’s ending unemployment number is going to inch even higher than the 8.5 percent it now sits at.
“Colorado’s economy is affected by what goes on globally and nationally,” said Natalie Mullis, Chief Economist for the Colorado Legislative Staff. And, based on what has occurred globally over the recent past, that can’t be good.
In the last several months, there have been global events that have had significant, if not devastating, impacts on the country’s economy. Among them are the Japanese tsunami that killed thousands and devastated a huge portion of the country, the Arab spring---mass upheavals that have toppled some Middle Eastern and African governments and left others reeling and that have sent oil prices soaring and the European economic crisis that has now placed a number of countries on the brink of bankruptcy.
Closer to home, there was a marathon legislative wrestling match between Republicans and Democrats over raising the debt ceiling in Washington that caused major uncertainty on Wall Street. Each of these events, Mullis said, resulted in “manufacturing slowdowns and economic retrenchment that’s subtracting from growth.”
But as in all economic slowdowns, some groups are hit harder than others. Latinos are one of these groups. In a number of regions across the country, unemployment, as described by former Labor Secretary Austin Goolsby, reached “Great Depression levels.” In Providence, Rhode Island, Latino unemployment hit an astounding 21.4 percent in late spring. At the same time, white unemployment in Providence rested uneasily at 13.4 percent.
In Denver, unemployment is listed at 9 percent. But the jobless figure for Latinos is 11.3 percent. In some communities, particularly those in rural areas of the state, Latino unemployment sits even higher.
President Obama, now vacationing with his family, has promised a major address on the economy in early September. In Denver, James Mejia, interim president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Denver hopes the president announces a new jobs program.
“There is a great deal of struggle still,” Mejia said, pointing to Denver’s Latino unemployment in Denver. But if the president proposes some of the “shovel ready” jobs designed to rebuild aging bridges, roads and other infrastructure, Mejia said, Denver is ready. “I do hope the president puts more resources into immediate jobs,” Mejia said because “those holding those shovels are frequently Latino.”
Mejia, who ran unsuccessfully for Denver mayor, visited nearly every community in the city during his campaign. He thinks the South Platte area of the city is ripe for growth. “We believe there is potential in Denver to have additional parkland, housing renovation and a rebuilding of neighborhoods along the river.”
But as Denver and the nation await the president’s September announcement, local agencies that have been struggling to meet their missions of helping those in need, continue to struggle.
“We’re seeing more and more people come in,” said Christine Marquez-Hudson, CEO and executive director of Denver’s Mi Casa Resource Center. But, every day is a challenge, she said. “Because we have reduced funding we can serve few people. That’s the bottom line.”
Marquez-Hudson worries that Mi Casa’s innovative and award-winning training program will suffer. Mi Casa has trained hundreds of people in new ‘green’ construction techniques, including weatherization and installation of solar panels.
A significant portion of Mi Casa’s budget comes from the federal government and in a tight economy, government spending is being reduced. Other money for Mi Casa comes from grants and private donors. The Wall Street roller coaster of last week, she said, certainly didn’t make these donors think about donating and spending on places like Mi Casa.
In just the past several weeks across Denver, a number of agencies that help those in need have shut their doors, consolidated or set deadlines for closing up shop. Among them are La Raza, Cross Communities and the Latina Initiative.
Servicios de la Raza, which has been in business since 1972, saw its requests for assistance rise more than 200 percent over the last fiscal year. “Last year we helped more than sixteen thousand people,” said Rudy Gonzales, Servicios’ executive director.
“Sometimes I don’t even sleep at night,” Gonzales said. Everyday is a challenge “just trying to figure out how to attract new money” to complete the agency’s mission. In the last year, 13 of the 14 grants that Gonzales applied for were rejected. But he knows that his is not the only agency desperate for money. “You have to be nimble, agile and able to respond quickly to grant possibilities,” he said. He’s currently working with U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and Sen. Michael Bennet to secure any federal funds he can to meet the needs of an ever growing number of people.
Gonzales is confident that Servicios will weather the soft economy. But, he knows that the challenges it places on his organization will require a lot of grit and imagination. He says he just finished the books for the last quarter. “We finished with a three-dollar surplus.”