Signs of progress are everywhere
Johnny Mack Morrow
For a while, it seemed that progress was a long time coming for our state. It was tough emerging from the economic changes of the seventies and eighties. It was the time when steel and coal industries first began to slow, agriculture and family farms were getting squeezed, and textiles were first being shipped overseas. A way of life that our state had known since World War II and before was changing; some for the good, but a lot of it seemed not so good.
We often had a feeling that as the rest of the country was moving ahead, somehow we weren't moving as far or as fast. You wait for a time when you can say progress has come, that it is here, and that there can be no mistake about it. I believe right now that we are at such a time. Signs of it are everywhere.
Just look at our economy. While the rest of the country is feeling the pinch of the economic slowdown, Alabama has one of the strongest state economies in the nation. Alabama's unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent in February, one of the lowest rates in the country, and well below the national average of 4.8 percent.
We have fared better than almost every other Southern state, according to federal statistics. Florida has 4.6 percent unemployment, Tennessee 5.3 percent, Mississippi 5.9 percent, and Georgia, once the hotbed of growth and economic development for the entire region, has an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent.
National and international firms have invested $6.8 billion for major industrial projects in the last year right here in Alabama. Our state is known worldwide as a place to invest and develop. Just look at the success of Mercedes since they opened back in 1993. The jokes from the national press about the prestigious automaker locating here have now been silenced, and their achievement has encouraged other automakers to build plants and become a significant part of our economy.
By no means is the economic progress felt equally everywhere, nor has it reached every family. We must be on constant lookout for new opportunities for our people and communities, and to support local businesses.
Another milestone we've had to carry from years ago is federal court oversight of some of the most basic services we should supply as a state. For years, the Alabama Department of Human Resources has been under federal court supervision because we weren't properly protecting abused and neglected children.
Caseloads for child protection workers were too large, resources and placement options were too thin, and kids would fall through the cracks. There is no doubt about it; it was a terrible situation. But we've been working hard at improving these vital services to the most vulnerable, and a real sign of progress just happened.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said it was "time for the federal court to step aside and allow the state to continue its efforts to care for the Alabama children in its protection," and it upheld a decision to remove DHR from federal oversight.
What the courts have recognized is that in the ast ten years, we have built a child abuse and neglect protection model that now other states are looking at using. We've worked to lower caseloads and catch the signs of abuse and neglect earlier. And when a child must be removed from a home, we can now provide quality options for that child with improved facilities, a stronger foster care family system, and a process to make sure things like a child's education isn't lost while under the care of the state.
In Alabama, we've waited for a long time to be able to say progress has come. It is here, and there can be no mistake about it.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.