“Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.”
It’s an election year, and you have probably seen that campaign slogan on billboards and yard signs all across the state. But are we really creating jobs here in Alabama? Or is job creation just more election year rhetoric like the teacher pay raise?
The news seems to be mixed at best. On the one hand, economists at the University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research have recently predicted our state’s economy to grow slightly faster than expected – about 0.2 percent faster to be exact, at a rate of about 2.4 percent.
That is hardly an economic boom. It is also nowhere near the 5.1 percent annual growth we averaged in the years prior to the recession.
At the same time, our statewide unemployment rate has continued to climb. Now at 6.7 percent, our unemployment rate is the highest it has been in more than a year, and is only 2 percent less than what it was four years ago when the Republican Supermajority took control in Montgomery.
Before the legislative session started, Alabama was ranked 49th in the country for job creation. In 2013, Alabama only added 300 new jobs. The reason for these terrible numbers is because for every job we create we also lose a job. And the jobs we are creating are not the good-paying jobs we are losing.
Other than manufacturing, our highest job growth has been in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes hotel maids and fast-food workers. Those are honest, hard-working jobs. But they also rarely pay enough to provide for a family of four.
Medicaid and food stamp enrollment have also been increasing lately. These are signs that we are not creating jobs like we should, and the jobs we are creating simply do not pay a livable wage.
But even if the numbers and economists are wrong, ask yourself: If you lost your job today, would you feel comfortable looking for work in this economy?
We do not need more broken promises and empty political rhetoric from our state leaders, senators and representatives. We need solutions.
A good first step was increasing funding for dual enrollment. This was a priority for Democrats this year, and a central part of our legislative agenda. After we announced our agenda, the Republican leadership in the state legislature announced that they, too, would push for expanding dual enrollment. In the end, we passed an expansion bill, though we could have found a better way to pay for it so that it would not have cost our K-12 schools.
But where we had success with dual enrollment, the legislature failed to pass other initiatives. For example, state leaders failed to increase funding for workforce development training.
We also failed to pass the Job Creation and Taxpayer Protection Act, which would have required clawback provisions to be put in place on any economic incentive packages offered by the state. This would have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars and required businesses receiving the incentives to create a minimum number of jobs in exchange for the incentives.
But it is not just that state leaders have failed to create jobs or pass job creation legislation. It is that they seem to be out of ideas.
State leaders are constantly talking about jobs, but they never talk about the specifics of how they plan to create these jobs. All they ever talk about is forming committees to study the issue and offer advice. At some point, we need to stop studying and start taking action.
And we do not need a committee to tell us what we already know works: investing in our infrastructure, as well as targeted tax incentives with reasonable clawback provisions and job commitments creates jobs in the short-term.
In the long-term, we create jobs by investing in education and workforce development training. We have to give the people of Alabama the tools they need to be successful. At the same time, investing in infrastructure and education makes Alabama more attractive to potential employers looking for a place to move or open new facilities.
The Republicans in the Alabama legislature love to talk about jobs. But if you were out of work today, would you feel comfortable looking for a job in this economy?
Job creation should be a priority, and not just a campaign slogan.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.