The Star’s article, which was based on interviews with local water and electricity providers, tied the nationwide economic downturn to the culprit of utility thefts. However, these thefts do not appear to be some widespread pandemic, with Weaver Public Works Director Rickey Steele saying, “it’s not anything out of the ordinary.”
Oxford seems to have been spared in part because of its heavy retail population. Instead, the thefts are reportedly occurring in Anniston and Hobson City.
The Star also pointed out that Calhoun County unemployment rate was around 8.7 percent in December — 0.4 percent lower than the state average and 0.3 percent lower than the national average. With the information broken down in this sense, one would have to ask if and why the recession has only now prompted these types of thefts.
According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2005-2009, Oxford and Weaver both have around 10 percent of their residents under the poverty line; 24 percent of Anniston residents live in poverty; a staggering 38 percent of Hobson City residents do the same, and these numbers don’t seem to be falling as the days of America’s manufacturing dominance become hazier with time.
Calhoun County unemployment may be slightly lower than the national average, but under-employment seems to run rampant in our area. Average pay in the area doesn’t reflect the cost of living, by any means. Alabama’s tax rules don’t make bills any easier for the working-poor to pay, either.
Aside from the unfriendly tax burdens on the working poor, the state’s 4 percent sales tax might seem relatively low. However, adding local taxes to every item bought, including groceries and medication, leaves upwards of a 10 percent sales tax on almost any purchase — no matter how frugal or how necessary.
The future of Calhoun County’s economy, the continually growing gap between “wealthy” and “poor,” or Alabama tax reform would be some great avenues of exploration. The topic should not end with a simple “blame it on the economy.” Living in a nation of consumers, we are the economy.
Michael Dean Smith lives in Heflin.