State leads nation in reducing unemployment

Jobs are on people’s minds today. It’s been a tough time for employment, and it is understandable that folks would be concerned about current and future work.

There has been some recent good news in numbers just released, and it indicates that we are seeing a return to a healthy state job market.

Alabama led the nation in reducing unemployment over the last year. We are still very far away from where we want to be when it comes to jobs, but there is no doubt we are on the road to recovery.

According the U.S.  Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Alabama unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in August, down from 10.6 percent a year earlier.

The 1.4 percentage-point decline in joblessness was the nation’s best, outpacing second ranked Tennessee, which saw a drop from 10.9 percent a year ago to 9.6 percent in August.

The employment increase is also accelerating. The state had the second sharpest month-to-month decline in unemployment in the country recently, with its jobless rate falling a half point from 9.7 percent in July. Our state has added tens of thousands of jobs in the past year, and more and more folks are able to find work.

Such encouraging news is a welcome sight after such a tough time.

When the recession hit at the end of 2007, Alabama was at full employment, with a jobless rate below three percent. After the financial crash and the deep economic troubles it caused, in the span of just twelve months the unemployment rate more than tripled.

As the economy continued to stagger, we saw the jobless figure rise to almost 12 percent—something not seen since the bad days of the early 1980s.

Alabama was ahead of the rest of the country in job losses. The economic hit to sectors vital to Alabama’s economy, from agriculture to manufacturing to banking, all took a huge toll on the state job market.

Now it seems that we are leading the nation in recovery.

August’s national unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, almost a half point higher than Alabama’s. It is the first time since the recession began that our state has an unemployment rate better than the nation’s.

Of course, not everywhere in Alabama is doing the same.

Throughout the Black Belt there is still double digit unemployment, led by Wilcox County at 21.3 percent. In comparison, Shelby County has the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 6.8 percent, followed closely by Madison County at 7.1 percent and Coffee County at 7.3 percent.

The most important thing is that everywhere in the state job gains are happening. And we have laid the groundwork to see this progress continue.

We see continued success in industrial recruitment.  The state’s auto production has increased by almost two-thirds during the last year. These are positive signs that add to a better job picture moving forward.

If you can’t find a decent job, then all the good economic news doesn’t mean much. We need to keep our nose the grindstone when it comes creating jobs, whether that is strengthening job training, continuing our recruitment strategy, or supporting small businesses with the lowest taxes in the nation.

Until we get back to full employment, our job is not done. It is good to know we are moving in the right direction.

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

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