By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
They say history repeats itself. That certainly seems to be true in Alabama politics—especially during an election year.
If you go on YouTube and look at the political campaign ads our state leaders ran four years ago, you may think you are experiencing déjà vu. Four years ago, the popular campaign slogan was “jobs, jobs, jobs.” This year, we are still about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
When politicians campaign on the same issues and slogans they used in the last election, they are admitting they didn’t get the job done.
Four years ago, Gov. Bentley campaigned on a pledge that he would not take a salary until Alabama’s unemployment rate had dropped to 5 percent. Now, after his first term, the governor is still not taking a salary. In fact, Alabama is the only state in the entire country to see our unemployment rate increase over the last year.
When it comes to job creation we are 49th in the nation. As of April, Alabama has only 95 percent of the jobs we had before the Great Recession began in 2008. All of our neighboring states have recovered faster than we have. Even Mississippi is creating jobs at a faster rate than we are.
For nearly every job we have created over the past year we have also lost a job. To make it worse, the jobs we are creating are either part-time work or low-wage, unskilled jobs that do not pay enough to provide for a family of four. Over the past five years, food stamp enrollment has increased 61 percent while Medicaid enrollment has increased 27 percent.
There is no doubt that our state leaders have failed when it comes to job creation—but anyone can throw stones and talk about what’s wrong. Leadership means offering specific solutions, not just more campaign rhetoric.
Job creation begins by investing in our state. This includes things like building bridges and roads, but it also means investing more in tourism, local attractions, internet access and other tools necessary to make doing business in Alabama easier.
In Etowah county, we should move forward with our plans to build a sports complex. This project will create construction jobs in the short term. After completion, it will bring people from all over the state to our county. When people come for a tournament, they will stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and shop in our stores.
We have options like this all over the state. From walking trails to museums, Alabama has many beautiful locations and a rich history that we should share and promote to visitors who come here or pass through our state.
We have so many great and important tourism venues to share that we don’t capitalize on: from the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to the various Civil Rights museums and historical cites, Alabama has so much to offer. We are more than just great football and beautiful beaches.
But we also have to think about job creation in the long-term. Investing in vocational training and dual enrollment is a huge step in the right direction. College is important too; I wholeheartedly support an education lottery to help our children afford that college education. But not everyone wants to go to college, and there are many great opportunities for those who want to learn a trade or skill.
Manufacturing is still at the heart of our economy and is the only sector of our economy that continues to grow despite the recession. And as the baby boom generation begins to move into retirement there will be thousands of opportunities opening up for those who are motivated enough to learn how to do those jobs.
In fact, southwest Alabama alone is expected to need an additional 4,000 new jobs over the next several months. The problem is these employers are unable to fill these positions because the workforce doesn’t have the skills to do the jobs. This is why it is essential that we invest more in our workforce development training programs.
Nobody works harder than the people of Alabama. We have to give them the training they need to do the jobs that are available.
After four years with absolute power, our state leaders are still campaigning on jobs because they have failed to bring the jobs they promised.
We don’t have to keep wandering in the wilderness. We have a plan to create jobs. But we won’t create those jobs if we keep electing the same politicians who keep using the same campaign rhetoric. It’s time for new leadership.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.