Monday is Labor Day – the national holiday that honors the hard-working people of our nation – and with that observance, Alabama Arise’s Citizens’ Policy Project released its report on The State of Working Alabama 2014. The report puts into concrete statistical terms what many struggling Alabamians are facing. Alabama’s unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation, the unemployment rate among African-Americans is double the rate for whites, and the unemployment rate for young people is double the rate for older workers. The Medicaid expansion that we aren’t getting would help many people in the state. Wages have stagnated. In short, the scenario is stated in terms too obvious to ignore: too many people in Alabama were knocked down by the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 and their situation hasn’t gotten any better during the “recovery.”
Not too long ago, I read in an NCTE report that, to return to 2008 class-size levels, Alabama would have to hire 9,000 teachers. I don’t know how many teaching jobs we’ve lost in the state, but the idea that we need 9,000 more teachers to return to what we had five years ago is staggering. (Don’t get me wrong: what we had five years ago wasn’t heaven on Earth.) My question, when I read the NCTE’s figures, was: are there 9,000 teachers in Alabama who had jobs in 2008 but can’t find jobs now? I was around during the massive layoffs that went down in 2009 and 2010 – thankfully, I kept my job – but I am still living with the impact. And if you’re thinking right now that a massive loss of teacher jobs only affects teachers . . . think again. Having few teachers in classrooms has, does and will affect our whole state.
Facing obvious problems, it is too easy to look to other people to “fix it.” We all have to pitch in, give some of what we have, and contribute to the greater good. And I don’t mean giving to charity. There is dignity in work, and most unemployed people don’t want a handout— they want a job. Sitting down here, in the heart of the Bible Belt, talking about the primacy of Christian values, we have an obligation to lift up “the least of these.” Right now – this report makes it clear – we aren’t doing that in Alabama.