That’s a depressing thought. If Marsh is correct, Alabama’s steady improvement in employment could be reaching a plateau just when the state is at the top of the heap.
According to a report published Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Alabama leads the rest of the country in improvement in its employment rate.
As we’ve reported all summer, employment statewide has been increasing steadily since February, when Alabama’s jobless number peaked at 11.1 percent. The state unemployment rate in August was 9.2 percent, the lowest in six months, and down from 10.6 percent a year ago.
Along with the national report, the governor’s office pointed out that Alabama had five metropolitan areas in the top 10 in the U.S. reporting decreases in unemployment over the last year. These were Florence-Muscle Shoals, Decatur, Anniston-Oxford, Gadsden and Tuscaloosa. Farther down the list but still with respectable rankings in the top 100 were Birmingham-Hoover, Dothan, Mobile, Montgomery, Auburn-Opelika and Huntsville.
No cities in Talladega or St. Clair counties are large enough to be considered in this ranking, but the county numbers reflect similar movement.
Talladega County’s unemployment rate for August was 11.4 percent, down from 14.3 percent a year ago. St. Clair County’s unemployment rate for August was 9.0 percent, down from 10.8 a year ago.
Gov. Bob Riley was understandably jubilant about the report. “Alabama right now is leading the nation when it comes to reducing unemployment,” he said. “No other state has seen a bigger drop in its jobless rate over the past year, and of the 10 American cities that have seen the largest declines in unemployment, five of the top 10 are in our state. It’s certainly a positive sign that Alabama is headed in the right direction.”
While that appears a lot more positive than Marsh’s assessment, both agree that recruiting industry from outside the state is crucial to continued improvement. Riley listed new industries and expansions all over the state that have pushed Alabama to the top, and Marsh gave Riley the credit for recruiting them.
However, Riley also admitted that Alabama has months of recovery ahead before it’s back to where it was even two years ago. In August 2008, Alabama’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent.
“Before the national recession hit, Alabama consistently had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country,” Riley said. “We still have a ways to go, but there’s no doubt the economy in Alabama is recovering.”
Riley, whose term expires in January, is not likely to be able to leave the state’s economy in better shape than he found it. His concern now is to leave it pointing in the right direction. “Over the last year we’ve seen more economic activity, more new jobs and more industry expansions,” he said. “Now we’ve got to maintain that momentum.”