Storms stall shaky recovery
May 21, 2011 | 2973 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Unemployment rates fell in 39 states in April. Unfortunately, Alabama was not one of those states. Alabama was one of only three states and the District of Columbia that saw an increase in unemployment in April; eight other states had no change.

Alabama’s uptick to 9.3 percent was only a tenth of a percentage point, and it brought the state’s unemployment rate back to where it had been in January and February.

State Industrial Relations Director Tom Surtees said that such “minor fluctuations are to be expected as we emerge from a recession,” and pointed to positive indicators that the state’s economy is, indeed, improving.

The pattern over the past two years, for example, shows that the unemployment rate is somewhat lower. Unemployment was 9.4 percent in April 2009 and 9.8 percent in 2010.

However, a look at the larger picture shows how far the state still has to go to reach pre-recession levels. In April 2007, unemployment in Alabama was 3.3 percent, the lowest in the past 10 years. A year later, it had climbed back to a more normal level, 4.3 percent.

To reach the 2008 level, Alabama will have to cut its unemployment in half and then some.

Don’t look for that to start in May. The April figures do not include job losses due to the April 27 tornadoes that caused damage estimated at $6 billion, wiped out hundreds of places of business and put thousands out of work, at least temporarily.

A spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations, Tara Hutchinson, said more than 5,600 people had applied for unemployment benefits because of the disaster.

While Gov. Robert Bentley instructed Surtees to make sure that Alabamians receive priority in hiring for jobs in the recovery effort, it’s not always a good match between those who lost jobs and those who can help rebuild.

Still, recovery jobs will bring some relief to some of the approximately 199,950 state residents who were already out of work. And the sooner the debris is cleared and the homes and businesses rebuilt, the sooner those 5,600 who lost jobs to the storms will be able to get back to work.

The numbers of people already hired to help in the recovery effort have not yet been compiled, and may not be available even by the time the May unemployment numbers are announced on June 17.

The one thing that is clear is that in addition to the toll in human suffering, the deadly storms of April 27 dealt the state an economic blow it could ill afford to absorb.