Let’s move Alabama from Worst to First

alabama, crossroads, worst, first

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.

Not your Mother’s Brand of Feminism

feminism, equal pay

Elizabeth Dawson, Contributor

I grew up with an odd view of the world. My mother was a 60 and 70s era pantsuit wearing feminist but she struggled with addiction and mental health issues so I grew up in my grandmother’s house and she had a very old world view of the woman’s role in society. I came up always wanting to be feminine and I wore vintage clothes before vintage clothes were cool. I harassed my grandmother into giving me money and I would hit the garage sales in the neighborhood and buy the most ridiculous, crazy dresses and sport them around like I was the coolest person on the block. Of course I was the scorn of my friends because I was odd and my family just scratched their heads and put up with it. My grandmother enjoyed it though because at least I liked to dress up. At least I was feminine. I was the antithesis of what my mother stood for and yet I was very head strong and had a very particular view of myself in this world. That view of myself did not include marrying well or allowing a man to support me. I rebelled against both my grandmother’s views and my mother’s version of feminism. I didn’t realize at the time was that I wasn’t alone in this new take of feminism.

As I hit the workforce, I found my mother’s version of feminism quite a bit. Women that wore pantsuits and thought that being a female in a man’s world was literally trying to be a man. I don’t scorn these women. They paved the way for my generation in the workforce yet it wasn’t my style. I did everything a man could do in the workplace and then some but I did it as a feminine woman. I was happy to don the dresses that my predecessors had scorned. I was a millennial feminist before that label was ascribed to my generation and yet I learned some valuable lessons both in my personal and professional life.

Because I didn’t have that nurturing mother type in my life, I learned the value of work and money early. I knew that I would always have to support myself because that safety net didn’t really exist. I did have my father and he helped me but my strength and my resilience came from tough lessons learned. I had men in my life that felt it was an acceptable course of action to remove money I worked for from my accounts to the detriment to myself and my children. I found out first hand about the inequity in the wage gap for women. Though these issues are tough, these are first world problems. I have traveled quite a bit for my job and personally. This experience has shown me that most of the world’s poor and starving are women and their children. Poverty is sexist as Melinda Gates has said and even though here in the United States, we make $.80 to a man’s dollar, outside of the U.S., conditions are far worse. The women of the world make our clothes, our technology and earn a starving wage to do so. I realized then that the millennial feminist cannot just be a state of mind, a law put into place for workplace equality or some heartfelt resistance movement. The real power for us women is in cold hard cash.

The new brand of feminism needs to stand for economic justice and the rest will follow. Martin Luther King said that “civil rights means nothing without economic justice.” So we as millennial women salute our predecessors and their fight for equal rights. We salute the suffragists. Our next fight is the end of slave wages. Women do not need charity but rather understanding. They need the means to invest in education, health care and well-being for their children. If this fight is fought now and won, we as women will have the power to improve the rest. So I implore you to find your own way to fight to improve the global wage gap. Buy products only from companies that pay their employees properly. Purchase with your conscious. Fund non-profits with this purpose in mind. The change will occur by economic means and this change cannot just occur for American women. It must occur for all women.

Damned if you don’t

school, closings, weather

Clete Wetli, Contributor

Last night, we got the message that the City of Huntsville cancelled classes due to the potential of severe weather as Hurricane Irma was predicted to bring heavy rain and wind into the Tennessee Valley. The kids were jubilant, the adults not quite so much. Then, on social media there was great bitching and anguish over the decision. Most folks were very upset because they felt that the severe weather threat was overstated and that they were now forced into spending some unplanned time with their kids. They were irate because, in many cases, it would mean having to take a day off work presumably without pay.

The best part was inadvertently listening to WVNN conservative talk show host Dale Jackson picking it as his “Number One Thing You’ll Be talking About Today” and excoriating the school administrators for the decision by calling them cowards. I was scanning stations while I was coming back from the store with bread and milk so that we could make milk sandwiches should Armageddon begin. Mind you, Jackson has no kids, but he’s quick to disparage the school system for their decision to err on the side of abundant caution. He thinks the whole decision was based on their fear of lawsuits from angry parents.

I think too many parents would be angry no matter what decision they made. In this case, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey had already made an emergency declaration before the storm changed intensity and direction. This means that cancelling class would not require a “make-up” day. The school systems made their decision yesterday based on the forecast that included wind advisories and a tropical storm watch for the area. Of course, things changed and the forecast wasn’t entirely accurate.

Cue rage and rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth and cursing in foreign tongues! How dare they!! Yes, Dale Jackson was right, this is the number one thing you should talk about today- not disaster relief, not Equifax’s hack, not tax reform, not 9/11 memorials- yes, we should burn the effigies of school administrators and be sure they hear our feverish outrage!

Alrighty then. Now that your done foaming at the mouth, you may wish to consider that if this is, indeed, your number one issue for today, your life is darn good. I have a feeling that later in the day, that will change after your kids complain about being bored and not being able to go outside because it’s raining. Or, you’ll stay enraged like Dale Jackson, who remains completely unaffected by this issue, and gripe incessantly to ever person who’ll listen because that’s sort of y’alls happy place. Ooh, I bet your pissed I used the colloquial word “y’alls” in a sentence, too…

C’mon, whatever happened to our ability to just roll with things? I mean, they made a decision on the best information they had at the time and, yes, they erred on the side of abundant caution. I may be going out on a limb here, but I prefer that rationale over making decisions out of carelessly embracing risk or being completely unaware of severe weather threats or using a Magic 8 Ball for major decisions.

Yes, you will have to interact with your children if you’re able to pry the cell phones out of their hands. You will feel intense guilt as you binge watch Game of Thrones or whatever other non-productive thing you do on a Monday when you should be working. Some of you will even declare at 2:20 that it’s 5 O’clock somewhere. Eventually, your outrage will subside or it will grow as you begin to seriously contemplate a career change as a right-wing talk radio show host.

So, let’s lighten up on the school system. They’re doing the best they can. Those poor folks are truly damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Remember, they’re dealing with your genius angels every single day. Yeah, your genius angels and those bratty moron kids down the street, yet teachers have to do all of that completely sober. So, you’ll make it through this one unplanned day. Remember this afternoon that it’s probably 5’Oclock somewhere and toast the school for unplanned family time.

I wonder what Dale Jackson’s “Number One Thing” will be when he finally does have kids? Probably, complaining about how that Hawaiian Punch cartoon character on his kids juice boxes turned them into liberal snowflakes. Well, we can only hope.