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Jobs continue to be the number one issue

Published 7:59am Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nobody likes sounding like a broken record. Yet until unemployment drops to a point where any breadwinner can find a decent job to put food on the table, we must repeatedly bring it to the forefront as the critical issue of our day. Nothing is more important than jobs.

Alabama’s unemployment rate soared to 9.6 percent in May. That is an increase of three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month. Such a dramatic increase in job losses happened in part because of tornadoes that slammed our state in April, destroying hundreds of businesses along with thousands of homes.

Even before the terrible storms, joblessness was still far too high. It is no wonder that polls show that employment is the number one concern of citizens, in Alabama and nationwide.

Yet it seems for many politicians, jobs are not the priority.

Listening to the current debate in Washington and what was front and center during the just completed legislative session in Montgomery, you’d think that the GOP believes that everything is just fine on the jobs front.

Too many people are out of work today, and that is where we must put our energies.

Oddly though, in the statehouse for the past months, everything on the Republican agenda seemed more important than employment. There was an immense amount of time spent on passing an illegal immigrant law that will cost the state millions in court costs. There were weeks spent on petty political payback by beating up on teachers, cutting their pay and attacking retirement. There was more time spent on symbolic social issues than putting people back to work.

In fact, GOP leaders in the Legislature ensured there would be job losses, not gains, by the actions they took. The state General Fund budget was so deficient it will cause layoffs of hundreds of public employees, from court clerks to child protection workers, people doing critical and necessary work.

The state education budget eliminated more than 1,100 teachers statewide, and with less money going to school boards, that will ensure hundreds more teacher layoffs at the local level. Now there are reports than local governments will further cut jobs. Jefferson County alone sent home more than 500 workers in the last week.

Such reduced public spending and employment will further depress local businesses that are central to our local economies.

There are things state government can do, and quickly, to help create jobs. It can expedite storm recovery and the rebuilding process, improving the construction sector and other areas of the state economy. It can make sure insurance claims are processed in a timely manner. It can provide assistance to business in the rebuilding effort. It can generate bond money to rebuild schools and other public infrastructure destroyed by the tornados.

Some of this is getting done. We should do everything possible to make sure all of these processes are handled quickly.

Yet if politicians do not take seriously the need for action on unemployment, the cycle of joblessness could be repeated over and over again.

That is a type of broken record that we could do without.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.

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