In late January of this year, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee released a study detailing the dire state of black-male employment in the nation's largest cities. Milwaukee itself ranked third-to-last (behind only Detroit and Buffalo), with a black-male-employment rate of only 44.7 percent -- a drop of 28.7 percent since 1970. [...]
At the same time, a bill was working its way through the Wisconsin legislature that would secure a new mine in Northern Wisconsin. Gogebic Taconite, a mining company based on the state's northern edge, is seeking to set up an iron-ore mine in the sparsely populated north woods. The company is seeking to make a $1.5 billion investment, which would create thousands of union jobs not only in the northern part of the state, but in Milwaukee, which is home to several companies (P&H Mining Equipment, Caterpillar), that either supply or manufacture mining equipment. The former president of Bucyrus, a manufacturer bought by Caterpillar, says that the bill will help sustain 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the Milwaukee area. (Importantly, the bill doesn't change any environmental regulations; it simply speeds up the timeline with which permits are approved.)
In the past, this is the type of bill that would have enjoyed bipartisan support. Democrats in the northern part of the state and in Milwaukee would see the economic benefit to their districts.
But this is Wisconsin in 2012. And the public unions run the Democratic party. [...]
In the meantime, good union manufacturing jobs in Milwaukee continue to vanish, and the economic plan for most northern Wisconsinites is to wait for the American Pickers guys to show up and buy a pair of rusty candlesticks buried in their garage. The national unions continue to oppose the mine, which would benefit their own members directly.
Two state senators, one moderate Republican and one liberal Democrat (whose district houses the new mine) have unveiled a compromise bill that is likely to go nowhere, as it taxes the mining company $25 million for the privilege of creating jobs in the state. If that version of the bill passes, don't expect unemployment to budge an inch.