How we can climb out of the recession

By State Rep. Craig FordBy State Rep. Craig Ford

 This week we celebrated Labor Day, a time to recognize and honor the contributions made by working and middle class families to our nation’s economy.
    But for many families, Labor Day is just a reminder that they are unemployed or cannot find a job that comes with quality pay and benefits.
    Job creation and economic growth are among the most important issues our country is facing, and our elected leaders at every level have said they are making job creation a priority.
    Both nationally and here in Alabama, our unemployment rate is declining.
    But is the declining unemployment rate really telling the true story of where we are with job creation and economic development?
    At the same time that our unemployment rate has gone down, the number of people enrolled in Medicaid has increased. In fact, since 2008, enrollment in Alabama’s Medicaid program has increased by more than 20 percent.
    Medicaid provides healthcare coverage to those Alabamians living below the poverty line who do not get health benefits from their employers and do not make enough to buy health insurance directly from the health insurance companies.
    So this increase in Medicaid enrollment means that the jobs we are creating, at least here in Alabama, are not good jobs with benefits and high enough pay to provide for the basic needs of a typical family.
    The unemployment rate is also a poor indicator of our economic health because it does not take into consideration the types of jobs being created. The unemployment rate also does not tell us if the rate is declining because jobs are being created, or because people are leaving the state or dropping out of the workforce because they cannot find a job.
    Back in June, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that 44 percent of recent college graduates were underemployed or unemployed, meaning that they either could not find work or were working in a job that did not require their college degree.
    Now, don’t get me wrong. Any job is better than no job. But when a college graduate or parent trying to provide for their family is competing with high school sophomores for a minimum wage job at the local McDonald’s, we have a real problem.
    That’s why it deeply bothers me to see state leaders patting themselves on the back when our unemployment rate is still this high and the jobs we are creating are not good enough. If the jobs we are creating cannot provide for a family, then what are we accomplishing?
    But there is a path back to economic growth.
    First, we need targeted corporate tax breaks that come with job commitments. Instead of passing blanket corporate tax cuts and hoping that maybe these multinational corporations will bring jobs or expand their operations in Alabama, we need to target tax breaks and make those breaks be conditional on a certain number of jobs being created. There also needs to be “clawback provisions” that allow us to rescind these corporate tax breaks if the jobs are not created.
    Second, we need to invest more in our infrastructure. Investing in our roads and bridges will create jobs immediately, as well as make our state more attractive to potential employers. It will also improve the quality of our public health and the services (both public and private) that we provide.
    Third, we need to invest in public education. This helps in both the short-term and the long-term. By investing in vocational training, we can teach skills to those who do not want or cannot afford a traditional college degree. And these vocations pay well! Consider how much you pay a plumber, welder or electrician, just to name a few.
    Investing in education also improves our economic prospects in the long-term. Companies look closely at the local education system before choosing a location.
    This is because they want an educated work force that is capable of taking on the jobs they bring. And the more educated our children are, the better chance they will have at obtaining a good-paying job with benefits.
    So while our economic growth and job creation is not as good as it should be, and not as good as our elected leaders are claiming it is, we still have hope.
    By investing in our education system and infrastructure and targeting our tax incentives in exchange for job commitments, we can climb out of the recession and finally get back on our feet.

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