The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

March 25, 2012

Alabama still not where it must be with jobs creation

Associated Press

- — From The Birmingham News:

There’s more good news in Alabama’s unemployment picture. The state’s unemployment rate fell for the seventh straight month to its lowest level in more than three years at 7.8 percent.

There’s bad news, too. Alabama’s work force is shrinking, meaning fewer people are looking for jobs, and not because they found them. They either have quit looking altogether or their unemployment benefits have run the course.

Opportunistic Alabama politicians will no doubt continue to credit the state’s terrible immigration law for the dramatic drop in unemployment.

Employment experts say the immigration law has had little impact on the state’s unemployment rate. They point out that years before the immigration law was passed, the state’s unemployment rate was much lower, even as undocumented workers were employed in particular sectors.

Even with the lower unemployment rate, employment sectors are reporting job losses.

The fact that jobs are disappearing is not a positive sign. John Norris, an economist and managing director at Birmingham’s Oakworth Capital Bank, was to the point: “This time it is hard to sugarcoat it ‚Äî Alabama’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell because fewer people were looking for work.” ...

Economic studies of the immigration law showed that forcing undocumented, U.S. citizens who are members of mixed families and worried documented workers to self-deport would hurt the state’s economy and job market.

Remember, too, that Alabama isn’t the only state seeing its unemployment rate fall. Most U.S. states are experiencing improved unemployment rates as the economic recovery lurches along.

Even Tom Surtees, director of the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, while touting the lower unemployment rate, sounded a word of caution: “There are still over 160,000 Alabamians out there who want a job and don’t have one. Others have left the work force. The point is, we are still not where we need to be, and job growth and creation need to remain our top priority.”

Surtees is exactly right. Lawmakers need to be smart about passing incentives to encourage job growth.

At the same time, the Legislature must revise laws that hurt the state’s reputation, like the overreaching immigration law.