Thursday, February 25, 2010

One bustling and one struggling; two cities on opposite ends of the employment gap

The recession has not been an "equal opportunist." Some states and cities are experiencing a booming or unchanged economy while destitute, unfinished houses and long food lines mark the day-to-day struggle to survive amidst financial instability in other areas.

The nation's unemployment rate is as low as 4 percent in Grand Forks N.D and as high as 27.7 percent in El Centro, Calf. Instead of covering the two cities with the lowest and highest unemployment rate, USA Today covered cites who had been the least and most affected by real estate development-Lincoln, Neb. and Merced, Calif. Failed real estate development is the leading contributor to high unemployment rates.

Overall, the article is informative, well written and editorially solid. The authors immediately say the nation's employment divide is unequal, and the main cause is real estate development. From there they cover Lincoln and Merced. Because the story is so long, some readers may not want to read the full story. It would have been preferable to give a synopsis of each city and then cover specifics.

The sidebar graphics are complimentary because they map the cities' demographics and home values. The only critique is each should have appeared on the page of its city. Instead Merced Calif.'s graphic appears on the profile of Lincoln, Neb. and vice versa. The front-page photo could have been better as well. It features a grandmother and grandson eating breakfast at a Salvation Army. Because the story is about the divide, I would have preferred a split picture.

One area has missing information. It’s within the five reasons for Lincoln, Neb.'s low unemployment rate. The author writes, "Manufacturing has been helped by lowering electricity rates 25% below the national average," and "Nebraska is the only state that generates all its power from government-owned utilities." Two or three explanatory sentences would easily clarify how each benefits the economy.

Otherwise, I like use of subtitles, sensory details and that the author tells each city's story from a resident perspective. The author ends on an optimistic, forward-looking note, featuring one successful business and saying Lincoln, Neb. and its residents will recover.

The Cities

Lincoln, Neb. is marked by stability and mainly because the city bypassed major land development. Because of this, it missed the harsh effects of the recession. The economy has been "good for so long that it's hard for many to remember bad times , according to residents"; so good that the unemployment rate has never been above 5% since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the number 20 years ago. Contributing factors include residents that hold multiple jobs and a diversified economy.

Merced Calif. is experiencing "economic misery." The city overindulged in development. One subdivision, Bellevue Ranch, resembles an "eerie ghost town" and wooden frames mark unfinished homes. The main explanation for the city's downfall is its 25,000-student university. The city built the school with the anticipation of completely filling it and accommodating faculty and new grads with surrounding housing. No faculty, no new grads and no influx of students occurred. In fact fewer than 3,500 students attend the school. In addition the economy is not diverse, as it's dependent on agriculture. Many residents are homeless and dependent on places like the Salvation Army, which feeds 200 people per day.

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