Obama's Vineyard Vacation Won't Be an Escape From Economic Gloom

Martha's Vineyard has experienced a spike in unemployment since 2008.

August 18, 2011, 9:24 AM

Aug. 18, 2011 -- President Obama and the first family retreat today from the spotlight and political rough-and-tumble of Washington for a 10-day vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard.

The Obamas are headed back to the Blue Heron Farm, a spacious $20 million estate in the Chilmark section of the island, for their third consecutive year. There they'll be insulated by 28.5 acres that include four living residences, a gym, swimming pool, basketball court and putting green.

But even while the president soaks up a slice of paradise, he likely won't be able to escape the nation's looming economic woes that have even lapped the Vineyard's shores.

The most recent unemployment figures for Cape Cod and the islands, including Martha's Vineyard, show the rate has spiked since 2008, swinging as high as 13.1 percent in January 2011, up from 6.4 percent in the same month three years earlier.

While the unemployment rate is much lower during the summer months, which is peak tourist season, regional economists say island unemployment has been much higher than average, reflecting Americans' cutbacks in travel during the recession and the housing market crash.

"The farther you get away from Boston, the economic indicators fall off dramatically," said Paul Bachman, a Suffolk University economist, who studies the economy on Martha's Vineyard. "The Cape and islands regions rely on a couple of areas that have been hit very hard in the last recession, particularly housing."

Bachman said the president's latest proposals for spurring growth and creating jobs -- an infrastructure bank, payroll tax cut extension, international trade deals and extended unemployment insurance benefits -- won't likely have an impact on the island's economy.

But many Vineyard business leaders say Obama's trip -- and the increase in tourism that will come from future economic recovery -- will definitely help.

"It's a little early to tell how we'll have fared this season," said Peter Temple, executive director of Martha's Vineyard Donors Collaborative, a community advocacy group, "but we hope to get an economic boost this year."

The visits of the Obamas, who remain beloved on the island, have provided an infusion of cash at a time when many tourists are headed home to begin the school year. "That end of August business, whether it's the press corps, members of the Secret Service, that's all good for business as far as we're concerned," said Nancy Gardella, who heads the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce. "When a head is in a bed, we don't really care whose it is. It just works for our economy."

Still, some of the president's Republican critics say his head belongs in Washington, working on solutions to help create more jobs.

"If I were president today, I wouldn't be looking to go spend 10 days on Martha's Vineyard," GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a Chicago radio station Wednesday.

"Now, Martha's Vineyard is in my home state of Massachusetts, so I don't want to say anything negative about people vacationing there," he said, "But if you're the president of the United States, and the nation is in crisis, and we're in a jobs crisis right now, then you should not be out vacationing."

Obama told a crowd in Alpha, Ill., Wednesday that "we've got to be doing every single thing we can, every minute of every day" to help the American people get back to work. But with Congress out of town until Labor Day, and many members on vacations of their own, Obama has signaled he's not going to cave to the criticism.

"I don't think Americans out there would begrudge the notion that the president would spend some time with his family," White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week. Besides, he noted, "there's no such thing as a presidential vacation."

"The presidency travels with you. He will be in constant communication and get regular briefings from his national security team as well as his economic team. And he will, of course, be fully capable, if necessary, of traveling back if that were required. It's not very far."

Obama heads on vacation as polls show his approval ratings on the economy have hit new lows. The latest Gallup survey found just 26 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the economy, while 71 percent disapprove. The president's overall job approval rating has sunk to 39 percent.

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