MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – For the second month, Alabama is the only state with an unemployment rate higher than a year ago.
The bad economic news comes as Gov. Robert Bentley seeks a second term after being elected in 2010 on a job creation platform.
Bentley said nearly 60,000 new jobs have been announced since he became governor, and Alabama is poised for better days when plants come on line like Airbus in Mobile, Golden Dragon Copper Tubing in Wilcox County and Remington in Huntsville. He plans to be in Opelika on Wednesday for the announcement of a company expansion. He said it takes about three years from the time a company announces a project in Alabama and it begins hiring workers.
“We are putting in place the things that will help us in the future,” he said in an interview Monday evening.
His Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Parker Griffith of Huntsville, said Tuesday, “We’ve got a chief executive who doesn’t realize the state is going backward and not forward.”
On Friday, the governor announced that Alabama’s unemployment rate had risen in July to 7.0 percent. That was up from 6.5 percent a year earlier. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Monday that Alabama was the only state with a July unemployment rate higher than a year ago.
The same thing happened in June, when Alabama’s rate of 6.8 percent was higher than the 6.5 percent measured a year earlier. The national unemployment rate has declined over the last year from 7.3 percent to 6.2 percent.
Bentley said his administration is busy recruiting industry, including taking university engineering deans and the state’s two-year college administrator to the Farnborough Air Show near London to show aviation companies that Alabama’s higher education system is ready to help them.
Griffith said Alabama is fighting an image problem that includes low ranking in many health and education measurements. Griffith, a physician like Bentley, said creating a state lottery that funds college scholarships would create a better trained workforce and expanding the Medicaid program would provide a healthier pool of potential workers.
He said at least 10 rural hospitals are at risk of closing if Alabama maintains its position on not expanding Medicaid under the federal health care law.
“You cannot do economic development in your county without a health care facility,” he said.
Bentley said too much emphasis is put on unemployment numbers that are based on random surveys, although he acknowledged he has done it at times, including his 2010 campaign when he promised not to take a salary as governor until the unemployment rate declined to 5.2 percent.
“Obviously, when it drops down to 6.1 we brag about it and if it is at 7, we don’t brag about it. But we do look at a lot of other numbers than the unemployment rate,” he said.
He said that as Alabama’s economy has improved, more people have started looking for work, which is a good sign. “When more people look for work, the unemployment rate goes up,” he said.
The next governor will be elected Nov. 4.
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