This week, our nation celebrates Labor Day – a day meant to honor and show appreciation to hard-working Americans throughout the country. But this year, the celebrations seem bittersweet.
For four years, our nation has struggled to climb out of this recession. Some states have been more successful than others in recruiting or keeping jobs, and until recently, Alabama appeared to be one of those states.
When Alabama’s unemployment rate started to go down this past year, the leadership in Montgomery was quick to come out and congratulate themselves for what they claimed was a reversal of our economic fortunes. They claimed their policies were turning the state’s economy around.
But now it seems they popped the corks on those champagne bottles a little too soon.
In June, Alabama’s unemployment rate climbed from 7.4 percent to 7.8 percent. In July, it climbed again to 8.3 percent. In just two months, the unemployment rate climbed nearly a full percent!
Even when Alabama’s unemployment rate was on the decline, it was not because we were creating jobs. If you look at the numbers, you will see that Alabama’s drop in unemployment had more to do with people leaving the workforce and therefore no longer being included in the calculation.
What is clear from all this is that we are not going to get out of this recession with a quick fix or a bandaid approach. But if we look at other states and cities that have been successful in creating or saving jobs, we can learn from their successes and hopefully recreate them here.
One formula that has been successful for creating jobs has been to invest in infrastructure, invest in education and make cuts where you must. In Alabama, we have certainly shown no hesitation to make cuts, as this year’s budgets clearly show. But what we have not done is invest properly in our infrastructure or education.
Investing in infrastructure (such as roads and bridges) can create jobs in the short-term by creating a demand for jobs in construction. But this construction also benefits other businesses that utilize state roads and bridges. And the people who are employed to do these construction jobs will then spend the money they make at other businesses, thereby growing the overall economy.
Investing in education can help grow our economy in both the short and long term. A key area we must invest in is technical and trade education.
Cities such as Chicago have been able to keep and recruit major industries by showing those industries that they have a workforce with the education to do those jobs. We also need to invest in higher education in order to recruit higher paying jobs, particularly in the technology industries.
Our nation will eventually climb out of this recession. But whether that happens sooner or later depends on whether our political leaders – both in Washington and Montgomery – are willing to make cuts where necessary, but also to invest in our people.