Change the words “could be” to “are.”
Think the PIGS Are in Trouble? These 7 U.S. States Could Be Heading for Something Worse
The inevitable coming of the sovereign debt panic finally engulfed Europe this week as the derisively (or perhaps affectionately) named PIGS spilled their slop on the continent. But Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain are hardly worthy of so much attention. In truth, they are little more than the currently favored proxies among the leveraged speculator community (cough) for the larger problem of all sovereign debt. Indeed, the credit default swaps on these smaller European satellite states were not alone this week in making large moves higher. UK sovereign risk rose strongly, and so did US sovereign risk. With a downgrade warning from Moody’s to boot.
Notable among three of the PIGS are their relatively small populations, and small contributions to either world or European GDP. While Spain has a population over 45 million, Portugal and Greece have populations roughly equal to a US state, such as Ohio–at around 10 million. And Ireland? The Emerald Isle has a population similar to Kentucky, at around 4 million. While the PIGS are without question a problem for Europe, whatever problems they present for Brussels are easily matched by the looming headache for Washington that’s coming from large US states such as California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.
I’ve identified seven large US states by four criteria that are sure to cause trouble for Washington’s political class at least for the next 3 years, through the 2012 elections. These are states with big populations, very high rates of unemployment, and which have already had to borrow big to pay unemployment claims. In addition, as a kind of Gregor.us kicker, I’ve thrown in a fourth criteria to identify those states that are large net importers of energy. Because the step change to higher energy prices played, and continues to play, such a large role in the developed world’s financial crisis it’s instructive to identify those US states that will struggle for years against the rising tide of higher energy costs.
First, let’s consider a large state that didn’t make my list. Texas didn’t make the list because its unemployment rate has not risen high enough to reach my cutoff: a state must register broad, U-6 underemployment above 15%, and currently Texas has only reached 13.7% on that measure. Also, Texas’s total energy production nearly perfectly matches its total energy consumption. Of course, Texas has indeed had to borrow more than a billion dollars so far to pay unemployment claims, thus technically bankrupting its unemployment trust fund. That meets my criteria. But, it’s instructive to note Texas’ energy production capacity in this regard, as that produces dollars. And one of the big reasons US states are under so much pressure, like their European counterparts, is that they cannot print currency. Being able to produce oil and gas is the next best thing to printing currency. So, Texas doesn’t make my list.