New Bedford heading south again?

NewBedford Steve Urbon of the Standard-Times has a succinct but awfully bleak assessment of how New Bedford is doing in the current recession. Opening sentence:

Unemployment has hung like a dark cloud over New Bedford almost from the city's beginning, baffling and confounding nearly everyone who has tried to understand it and eliminate it.

Perhaps the most discouraging angle in the story is that New Bedford (photo of historic district by Mark Morelli) did seem to make progress earlier in the decade, getting its unemployment rate down to 6 percent, but Urbon reports that it's now 12 percent, or double the state average:

"Two decades worth of improvement, shattered in a matter of months."

That is the blunt verdict on SouthCoast's unemployment problem from Clyde W. Barrow, director of the UMass Dartmouth Center for Policy Analysis, as he surveys the wreckage caused by the recession.

"The most discouraging part for me is that we seem to have reverted to the old pattern of being double the state average unemployment rate through the trough of a recession," he said. "Over the last two business cycles we seem to be moving away from closing the unemployment gap."

New Bedford is one of 11 communities in MassINC's "Gateway Cities" project, a collaborative effort at revitalization that Urbon mentions toward the end of his story. (Barrow doesn't think the project is enough and instead advocates the politically impossible idea of cities like New Bedford annexing less distressed towns.)

CommonWealth's Michael Jonas wrote about the city in 2006, when there was hope that the arts sector would help energize New Bedford.