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State of the workforce

Fitzgerald Washington

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Fitzgerald Washington
Secretary, Alabama Department of Labor

We’re at the beginning of another year, and ready to see continued improvement in our economy. At the Alabama Department of Labor, we are busy wrapping up the facts and figures for 2016. There were many improvements last year, and I’d like to let people know about them.

We ended the year with our wage and salary employment only 17,000 jobs away from reaching two million. I can’t emphasize how great this news is! The last time our economy supported two million jobs was back in 2007, before the recession, before tens of thousands of Alabamians were relying on unemployment compensation to help support their families, and before our unemployment levels reached record highs. A wage and salary employment level of two million is considered to be a benchmark employment figure. I’m hopeful that we’ll reach that milestone in 2017.

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As employers’ confidence was sustained and hiring rose, Alabamians continue to join the workforce. We ended 2016 with the largest workforce we’ve had in more than five years. Additionally, more people were working in December 2016 than at any time since April 2008. Employers are hiring, and workers are working. Those who don’t have jobs are looking for jobs, which tells us they believe there are jobs to be had. All of these are positive signs for our economy.

Our manufacturing industry continues to lead our economy. In 2016, Alabama ranked third nation-wide in manufacturing employment growth (year over year December). These competitive, sought-after jobs carry wages of more than $20 an hour.

As far as unemployment compensation goes, the amount we are paying in benefits and the number of people filing for those benefits are at seven year lows. Those who are receiving benefits are only doing so, on average, for around 14 weeks, which is significantly less than during the recession, when up to 99 weeks were available and some were using all of them.

Last year, we paid out over $183 million in Work Opportunity Tax Credits, more than $71 million higher than in 2015. These are credits that employers can take advantage of when they hire certain individuals, such as the long-term unemployed and food stamp recipients, among others. These are dollars that are going right back into our economy to spur spending and encourage hiring.

Job orders on the state’s free jobs database, www.joblink.alabama.gov, were at five year highs, with several months registering more than 30,000 orders!

With all of these positives, we still realize that there is work to be done. Even though there are more people working now than in nearly a decade, there are still more than 130,000 Alabamians who are out of work. Our mission, just like that of Governor Robert Bentley, is to make sure that these citizens have the opportunity to get a job, to support their families, and to live a quality life. In order to meet these obligations, we’re setting a few goals:

  • First, we’re aiming to keep 2017’s yearly average unemployment rate below the yearly average unemployment rate of 2016 (5.9%).

In order to keep the unemployment rate low, it’s important that we maintain employment levels. This means working with the Governor, state agencies, economic development groups, and local governments in order to keep jobs in Alabama and recruit new ones. Since taking office in 2011, Governor Bentley’s administration recruited 92,000 jobs to the state. These cooperative agreements are beneficial to all involved.

  • We’re also focusing our efforts to surpass economists’ estimates for job growth in 2017.

In January of this year, economists predicted that Alabama will gain 18,700 jobs in 2017. We hope to surpass that number, as we have for the past three years. In 2016, the prediction was for growth of 29,450. For the period covering January 2016 to December 2016, jobs grew by 49,600, bypassing the predictions by 20,150! Again, as employers maintain their confidence in the economy and continue to hire, hopefully, this goal will be an easy one to meet.

  • We want to increase awareness of free, valuable services available at our 49 Career Centers located throughout the state.

Our Career Centers offer so many wonderful services for both jobseekers and employers. The best part is that they are offered at no charge! Nearly half a million Alabamians were served in 2016, and we hope to increase that number this year. Our regional job fairs, hosted in Montgomery, Dothan, and Birmingham last year, drew more than 12,000 jobseekers to speak with more than 400 employers. We’re bringing our job fairs to other regions of the state this year. Come out and see us! Find out more information about any of our services at www.labor.alabama.gov.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Preserving our history to protect our future

Gerald Allen

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Doing the right thing isn’t always politically expedient, but a strong leader does what’s necessary regardless of her critics. Governor Kay Ivey exemplifies this kind of no-nonsense leadership.

Last year, our state faced a difficult decision: should we listen to the politically-correct, out-of-state pundits or do what’s best for the future of Alabama?

All across Alabama, we have monuments and statues that tell our storied past. Many of these moments have affected our entire nation and shaped us to be who we are today. History doesn’t just tell us where we’ve been, it often provides signals and warnings for how to avoid repeating past errors. As George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Nearly one year ago, I sponsored the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a law that protects historic monuments and memorials in Alabama from thoughtless destruction.

More specifically, the Memorial Preservation Act prohibits the destruction or alteration of public monuments older than forty years, and established a standing committee to hear waiver requests from cities and counties, while historic artifacts under the control of museums, archives, libraries, and universities were specifically exempted from the prohibition against removal or alteration.

This law is the result of countless discussions with other legislators, historians, and interested citizens, and the intent is to preserve memorials to all of Alabama’s history – including the Civil War, the World Wars, and the Civil Rights movement – for generations to come.

We’ve seen a wave of political correctness sweep the nation, and too often, these attempts have resulted in re-writing of the American story. This politically-correct movement to strike whole periods of the past from our collective memory is divisive and unnecessary. In order to understand our complete history and where we are today, we have to tell it as it happened.

As a lawmaker, I believe it is incumbent upon us to preserve our state’s history, and I am grateful that Governor Ivey, in the face of criticism, stood up for the thoughtful preservation of Alabama’s history – the good and the bad. As father and grandfather, I am especially grateful she understood the importance of our children and grandchildren learning from the past, so they can create a better future.

Sen. Gerald Allen serves Senate District 21 which includes: Lamar County, Pickens County,and Tuscaloosa County.

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Opinion | The push for a balanced budget

Bradley Byrne

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When the 115th Congress kicked off last January, I immediately introduced a bill that I believe is fundamental to the future of our country: a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The premise of a Balanced Budget Amendment is pretty straightforward. The federal government should not be allowed to spend more than we take in, except in extraordinary circumstances like a time of war.

This isn’t some sort of far flung idea. When I served in the Alabama State Legislature, we were required to pass a balanced budget each year. It was not always easy, but it was the law. The vast majority of states have the same requirement.

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Balancing a budget is also a common occurrence for families in Alabama and across the United States. Every month, people sit around their kitchen table to figure out how to make ends meet and live within their means. Small businesses must do the same.

The federal government should have to play by the same rules.

To truly enact a Balanced Budget Amendment, we would need to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a reminder, in order to amend the Constitution, the Balanced Budget Amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states, which is 38 out of the 50 states. The only other way to amend the Constitution would be through a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the states.

Recently, the House voted on House Joint Resolution 2, proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Despite receiving the support of a majority of us in the House, the bill did not receive the two-thirds majority necessary under the Constitution.

I was deeply disappointed that most Democrats in the House opposed the Balanced Budget Amendment. Despite talking a lot about our debt, they rejected one of the best opportunities to actually restore fiscal sanity in Washington.

Throughout the course of the debate, two important topics were raised, and I wanted to briefly address each of them.

First, despite what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe, the answer to our debt issues is not to tax the American people more. We do not have a tax problem; we have a spending problem.

To be clear, the recently passed tax cuts are not to blame for our nation’s debt issues. As the Heritage Foundation recently pointed out, “tax revenue is expected to fall by only 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and spending is expected to climb by 3 percent of GDP.” Again, we have a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

Second, the most serious drivers of the national debt are on autopilot. For example, if you eliminated every penny Congress appropriated for defense spending next year, the federal government would still be projected to operate in a deficit.   So-called mandatory spending programs must be reined in, and a balanced budget amendment would finally require Congress to tackle those programs head on.

Now, I know passing a balanced budget would be hard, but I did not run for Congress because I thought the job would be easy. We were elected by our neighbors to make difficult choices and decisions.

So, while our recent effort to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment came up short, I will not let it stop me from continuing to push for a balanced budget that requires the federal government to live within our means, just like the American people.

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Opinion | Vengeful Alabama to kill 83-year-old man

Stephen Cooper

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Barring intervention by courts or its governor, Alabama will kill an 83-year-old man on April 19; long-incarcerated for the 1989 mail-bomb killings of United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Judge Robert S. Vance and civil rights attorney Robert E. Robinson, Walter Moody, Jr.’s wizened, withered body, will, three decades after his crimes, be strapped to a gurney, pricked with a sharp needle (possibly many, many times), and pumped full of chemicals until he is dead.

Why? Other than the reactionary, regressive idea of “retribution” – whose flawed moral underpinning is interchangeable with bloodthirsty, wild, wild West revenge – how will justice be served? And, for whom?

The premeditated, state-sponsored senicide of the most senior of senior citizens on Alabama’s death row won’t make anyone – not anyone in Alabama, and not anyone anywhere in the United States or the world – safer. As I have written elsewhere, the myth that capital punishment – in this instance for an old man at the tail-end of a tortured existence in “hell-on-earth” Holman prison – provides deterrence, is an outmoded shibboleth. No mentally disturbed person intent on a bombing rampage will be dissuaded by Alabama prosecutors’ tri-decade pursuit of Moody’s execution. (As the Tuscaloosa News editorialized in a piece titled “Attempts to carry out the death penalty have gone from bad to worse”: “Thirty years is a long time to wait to die, but the State is persistent. Alabama has spent a lot of money and a lot of energy to usher out these old and infirm inmates before nature takes its course.”)

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Additionally, and arguably most important, Alabama’s unrelenting desire to exact violent vengeance for the deaths of Judge Vance and Attorney Robinson is improper because of: (1) who these champions of justice were, their respective legacies of honor, and the principles of equality their lifework embodied; and (2), because it is undesired by the people whose opinion should matter the most – the family members of the victims – who have spoken publicly about this.

A crusader for civil rights in the segregated South, Robert Robinson served on the executive board and as general counsel of the NAACP, and so it seems certain he would not favor the death penalty – for Moody, or for anybody – the practice having been hewn from the hell of slavery, subjugation and the suffering of black people. Interviewed for a 2016 essay called “Celebrating Black History: Remembering Robbie Robinson,” Robinson’s widow, Ann, “says she may never know the reason why her husband lost his life to such a heinous crime but she harbors no ill feelings towards Moody. Instead, she’s focused on keeping [her husband’s] memory alive.”

By the same token, Judge Vance’s wife Helen, who was seriously injured as a result of the bombing that killed her husband, told reporters after Moody’s 1991 conviction in federal court that, “she wouldn’t press for a state death-penalty case” (Helen Vance died in 2010). And recently, in March, Robert Vance, Jr., Judge Vance’s son and a circuit judge in Alabama, told a news reporter: “We achieved peace when [Moody] was convicted,” later saying “he’s not sure what can be gained from the execution of his father’s killer.” This ambivalence and distaste for executing an impotent, likely soon-to-die-anyway old man, would undoubtedly have been shared by his father. For as now-deceased former acclaimed death penalty attorney and law professor Michael Mello wrote about Judge Vance, for whom he clerked, in his book “Dead Wrong: A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment”: “Judge Vance personally did not believe in capital punishment; if he were a legislator he would vote against it; if he were an executive he would commute death sentences; and if he were a Supreme Court Justice, he might well hold it unconstitutional. Robert Vance’s personal opposition to capital punishment was genuine and heartfelt . . . . He did not believe that the death penalty was a proper form of punishment[.]”

Which brings us full-circle to the questions I posed earlier: Why is Alabama intent on killing an octogenarian who can no longer hurt anyone? And, who on God’s good earth will benefit from such ghastliness?

For as renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian Lewis Smedes once powerfully observed: “The problem with revenge is that it never evens the score. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity is demanded, and the escalator never stops.” This is why Sir Francis Bacon once counseled that “[i]n taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.”

If Alabama does not spare Mr. Moody, this time-tested wisdom, together with whatever honor and capacity for human dignity that exists within the office of Alabama’s governor, its Department of Corrections, and its Office of the Attorney General, will be lost.                  

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq

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State of the workforce

by Fitzgerald Washington Read Time: 4 min
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