Charles Miller, Contributor
Every time a new national ranking of education, the economy, or health comes out, a lot of us say, “Thank God for Mississippi”. We can always find someplace worse, but the fact is that Alabama is being hung out to dry. Our representatives in Montgomery are not doing anything to improve things. We’re the worst, when we should be first. We all know excuses are not good enough – Alabama can do much better. I think the way we should react to news that students keep failing basic skills tests – it’s not the students that are failing, it’s the schools. So, it’s apparent that it’s the politicians that are to blame, not the people who are stretched thin, just trying to make ends meet.
Speaking of education, Alabama is at, or near, the bottom in K-12 schools. Take math scores for instance – the skill that matters most for technical jobs that pay well – Alabama is ranked 50th. Our schools are also near the bottom in college readiness, leaving most of our students with little hope for a better future. What have our leaders done to Improve that? Nothing that amounts to anything significant. We know that our students can do much better, and they do when given the opportunity – it’s our education system that is failing, not the students and not the parents.
On economy and jobs, we are at the bottom. It’s as if Alabama refused to participate in economic recovery. While the rest of the nation is rising, Alabama lags behind, but it’s not because people aren’t working hard, it’s because of lack of opportunity and a failure of leadership. Our state is 48th in employment with just over half the potential workforce employed. We rank 48th in business environment, according to the Statistical Atlas, – and most of our representatives say they are “pro-business”. We are not convinced.
We are being misled when we look at the “unemployment” rate. Nearly half, who are not employed, are stay-at-home parents. Of course, that can be a good thing when it’s possible for one parent to earn enough to support the family. That’s not what’s happening. When earnings are so low, especially in rural areas, it is difficult for one working parent to make a living wage for their family. When median income is less than $24,000 that can be largely impossible. Among young adults age 20 – 24, the unemployment rate is staggering at 15 – 13 %. Every day I hear from people who are cobbling together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet. So, it’s not surprising that a third of Alabama’s children live in poverty. That makes for a poor economy and a poor future for our state.
In health, we are predictably near the bottom again. Our healthcare is some of the most expensive and our outcomes the worst. Tragically, Alabama is 50th in infant mortality and near the bottom in healthcare for children and adults. It’s a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it? We pay more and get less, live sicker, and die broke. The worst thing about this is that healthcare is so politicized and our political leaders seem to lack the will to come up with practical solutions to make healthcare affordable and accessible.
Then, there is the grocery tax. Only a handful of states charge sales tax on groceries and only three, including Alabama, apply the full rate to groceries to be consumed at home. This unpopular regressive tax that hurts families could be eliminated and replaced by new sources of revenue that have broad public support, but again, our politicians lack the will to implement those solutions. And that’s just one example of many taxes that hurt all of us.
There are solutions for all these issues and in the coming months I’ll be talking about them. But more importantly, I’ll be listening to the people who live with those kitchen table issues every day. Too few of our representatives are really listening. Too many representatives are unwilling to discuss, let alone implement, innovative and effective solutions. We need new blood in the legislature to take Alabama from worst to first.