Rockford Unemployment: better off now or in the 1980s? - WREX.com – Rockford’s News Leader

Rockford Unemployment: better off now or in the 1980s?

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John McNamara served as Rockford's mayor from 1981-1989. John McNamara served as Rockford's mayor from 1981-1989.
Tom Giamalva, owner of Palace Shoe Repair, says the city's worse off now than in the 1980s. Tom Giamalva, owner of Palace Shoe Repair, says the city's worse off now than in the 1980s.

By Samantha Ptashkin

ROCKFORD (WREX)- In 1983 Rockford's unemployment rate reached a record high of 25%. Fast forward to 2010 and the number is not much better. Nearly 21% of the people living in the city don't have a job.

13 News talked to both a small Rockford business owner who had the same store back in the eighties and the city's former mayor to find out what, if any, is the difference between the city's situation then and now.

"I don't know of anybody through this recession and the bank failures and so forth that hasn't been affected," said John McNamara, who was Mayor of Rockford between 1981 and 1989. "There were many people 25 years ago that were not affected in that same way."

McNamara says back then, unemployment was felt almost exclusively by people out of work. It's not the case today. "Because of the overall economy, you're having homes foreclosed where people are still working, you have people of all ages, but especially seniors, losing a great percentage of their retirement plan," McNamara said.

The city is dealing with the problem in many of the same ways McNamara did, pulling together social service and mental health agencies for help. "What is a challenge is that at the same time the state is in a horrible financial condition and those same agencies that we relied on then, quite frankly were better off," McNamara said.

Back then the city tried to lay the ground work for new businesses to come in, but in three decades, Rockford isn't the same manufacturing city it used to be. "The whole economy has changed. A good deal of those businesses that were having troubles back then are now gone," McNamara said.  

But not Palace Shoe Repair on North Main Street. It's been around for 84 years. Since the eighties, Owner Tom Giamalva has noticed the change that makes it harder now for people to recover. "Back in the eighties, we had the high inflation. Peoples' budgets were different back then. Today they run it along the fine line in their personal lives and their businesses, so if there's a little bump in the road, look out," Giamalva said.

He says today's recession does of course scare him, but he's hopeful that we'll recover just as we did before.

McNamara says the key to recovery in the eighties was addressing the needs of the unemployed.

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