But that fact — though welcomed — doesn’t accurately portray unemployment in Alabama. The bottom line: It’s not good.
Last week, the state Department of Industrial Relations reported Alabama’s unemployment rate rose in June for the third month in a row. It now is 9.9 percent, with analysts projecting a double-digit rate in coming months as that trend inexorably rolls on.
Northeast Alabama has become a Petri dish-example of the state’s jobless woes. Six area counties — Calhoun (10.4), Talladega (11.9), Cherokee (10.0), Clay (13.3), Cleburne (10.0) and Randolph (13.0) — all had rates of 10 percent or higher in June.
At play is the nasty ebb-and-flow of unemployment rates, which can rise or fall from month to month and cause either relief or concern among those worried about their economic future.
For Alabama, however, the story’s not that simple. The April 27 tornado outbreak that devastated so many communities across the state is embedded like coal in these rising unemployment rates. Businesses that were obliterated by Mother Nature haven’t returned. Jobs were swept away in the debris.
The result is a state already struggling to keep its jobless rate out of double digits may see just that later this summer. The additional 33,000 Alabamians who now are working don’t offset the rise in those who are looking for work — an increase of more than 50,000 since January that economists attribute partly to an upward tick in the number of out-of-work residents who are returning to the job market.
As we mentioned last week, the pressure is on the state’s new Economic Development Alliance, which Gov. Robert Bentley has charged with creating a state economic master plan that concentrates on one theme: creating jobs. Considering the enormity of the problem, however, it’s hard to envision Bentley’s new alliance making much of an immediate difference.
Granted, the tornadoes aren’t the biggest fish in this jobless pond; they only made it worse. The recession long ago descended on many parts of Alabamians’ lives; that’s still the case today.
A dramatic downturn in revenue is evident in all corners of state government and services. Cost-cutting decisions made by the state Legislature in the spring are shown in the latest jobless figures. Laid-off state employees count just the same as those cut loose in the private sector.
All of these are ingredients in Alabama’s unemployment stew: low consumer confidence, a stagnant national economy, the state payroll excessively trimmed, and hundreds of jobs — or more — taken in the storms.
Reversing these trends will take an equally diverse set of solutions. Alabama, as is the nation at large, still longs for its brighter days.