Ken Hare In Depth: AL may finally be seeing sustained job growth

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Perhaps, just perhaps, Alabama has turned a corner toward achieving sustained job growth.

While the state's unemployment rate has gone up and down each month this year, the number of seasonally adjusted jobs added to the state's economy has edged up for the past several months. And that is good news.

Far too often, public officials place too much emphasis on the unemployment rate as the primary measure of how well the state's employment picture is doing. Gov. Robert Bentley has been guilty of that, going so far when he was running for office to promise that he would not take a salary as governor until the state reaches "full employment," which he defines as 5.2 percent.

(The state's unemployment rate in May was 6.9 percent.)

But in the real versus the political world, it's more complicated than that.

To get an accurate picture of the job market, the public should track three factors. They are:

1. The state's labor force, or the number of people who are working plus those who are actively seeking work.

2. Employment -- the number of  people who have jobs.

3. Unemployment -- the number of people actively seeking work but who cannot find it.

Divide No. 3 by No. 1 and you get the unemployment rate.

But the number of unemployed persons can drop for two reasons -- they can find work, or they can get discouraged and give up on finding work.  The latter reason may decrease the unemployment rate, but it doesn't help the economy.

That's an oversimplification, of course. There are many other issues, such as seasonally adjusting rates and such factors as "underemployment" -- such as people who have part-time jobs but who want full-time work. And there has to be some small increase in jobs just to keep up with growth in population.

But in looking at employment, the picture does seem to be getting better.

In January, there were 1,999,493 employed persons in Alabama. That edged up to 2,002,766 in February, and to 2,009,526 in March. Then it took a nice jump to 2,027,313 in April and reached 2,033,528 in May, the latest month for which numbers are available.

The state's labor force also has grown each month since January, increasing from  2,148,156 in January to 2,181,316 in May.

If that trend continues, public officials can truly and legitimately claim that the state's jobs picture is seeing sustained improvement.

But there needs to be a lot of job growth before Alabama again reaches the kind of economic strength it saw before the bottom dropped out. The state had 2,093,812 employed persons in January 2008, so it will take months more of sustained job growth to reach that level again.


WSFA 12 News Vice President and General Manager Collin Gaston did an editorial this week that expressed the frustration of a lot of voters with elected officials who leave office in mid-term.

Alabama has seen several cases of that in recent weeks.

First, Congressman Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, announced he would step down to become vice chancellor for government relations and economic development for the University of Alabama. Then, Secretary of State Beth Chapman announced she would resign to get involved in some undefined public relations and government consulting -- but not lobbying. The Alabama Farmers Federation later announced she would work for them in activities related to political campaigns. And most recently, state legislator Jay Love, R-Montgomery, announced he would leave office so that he could "promote education reforms."

Both federal law for Bonner and state law for Chapman and Love place limits on the types of activities they can engage in involving their former posts. Assuming they stay within  those limits, there is nothing legally wrong with their mid-term resignations.

But the voting public has reasons to question whether these politicians lived up to their commitment to fulfill a certain term of office. Should any of these politicians ever decide to seek public office again, the voters should remember that unfulfilled commitment.


The city of Montgomery has lost two key employees in recent weeks, but Mayor Todd Strange has moved quickly to fill their posts with people with strong credentials.

But I would be remiss if I did not applaud the work of departing city officials Jeff Downes and Chad Emerson. Downes retired as deputy mayor to become city manager of Vestavia Hills, and Emerson is leaving to become chief executive officer of Downtown Huntsville Inc.

I have interviewed and called on the expertise of both Downes and Emerson many times over the years, and found them to be professional and dedicated city employees. They truly had  an exciting vision of how Montgomery could improve its quality of life for its citizens.

The community owes both a debt of gratitude for their work and well wishes in their new roles.


Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA's web site. Email him at

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