Alabama leads job recovery, but Obama touts Michigan

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

Two states — Michigan and Alabama — are jointly leading the nation in the difficult race to force down unemployment rates.

Both states have reduced their unemployment rates by 2 points since last March, putting them well ahead of most other states, such as California (down 0.7 points), Florida (down 1.7 points) or Nevada (down 1.6 points).

But President Barack Obama has ignored Alabama’s recovery while repeatedly boosting Michigan, whose unemployment rate of 8.5 percent is well above the 7.3 percent rate in Alabama.

In fact, Obama has boosted Michigan with his massive multi-billion dollar auto bailout, and hampered Alabama with lawsuits.

Obama directed his lawyers in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to halt a major element of Alabama’s unemployment reduction program — the popular and bipartisan immigration reform law that requires residents to show work eligibility, which has opened up many jobs to Alabama residents since June 2011.

Campaign politics may play a role in Obama’s favoritism.

Michigan is a potential swing state in the November election, and its auto workers comprise a large slice of the state’s swing voters. Obama’s repeated support for Michigan’s auto factories is heard and seen by many swing voting, blue-collar workers who are employed in other states’ manufacturing centers. In contrast, Alabama will almost certainly vote for the GOP presidential candidate in 2012.

Just as importantly, White House officials are portraying Alabama’s popular immigration reform as a threat and an insult to Hispanic voters in other swing states, such as Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Virginia. Obama’s campaign officials hope to spur a record turnout by Latino supporters in November.

Since last fall, when Alabama state officials began to enforce the law stage-by-stage, almost 47,000 of Alabama’s citizens and legal residents have gotten jobs.

There is no reliable data showing how many illegal immigrants have left Alabama, but the increase in formal employment has spurred tax receipts in the state’s counties, as well as many businesses. It has also helped raise salaries in some business that lost workers after the immigration reform.

In March, employment increased by 12,200, and the average time that people received unemployment benefits fell to 17 weeks, according to an April 20 statement by Gov. Robert Bentley.

However, these accomplishments for Alabama’s working class and middle class have been ignored by Obama’s lawyers, especially Tom Perez, who heads the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

In October, Perez visited the state, used a press conference to repeat rumors about ill-treatment of immigrants and to claim that the state’s education scores would decline if the children of illegal immigrants depart.

“We’re hearing a number of reports about increases in bullying in schools … we’re beginning to hear information regarding [potentially improper] arrests … we are hearing some concerns about vigilante enforcement of the law … [and] there are disturbing reports of people saying ‘You don’t belong here. Go back to where you came from,’” claimed Perez, who prefaced his claims by describing himself as “the son of immigrants.”

Otherwise, Alabama gets few mentions in the White House.

A Jan. 11 event in the White House showcased investment in Alabama by German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp, but that investment was attributed by the White House to the “insourcing” of jobs prompted by government policy.

Actually, ThyssenKrupp is buiding the huge $3.7 billion facility in Alabama partly because it is close to cheap coal supplies. The steel mill — and its expected workforce of 2,700 — will add to the state’s high-tech sector, which includes several auto-manufacturing plans and the Pentagon’s missile-research center in Huntsville.

Those companies are also attracting other companies, despite loud protests by lobbies that oppose the immigration reform.

For example, Newman Technology recently began construction of an auto-parts plant intended to employ roughly 70 people in Albertville. The project stands “as proof that businesses will locate in our state, and even Albertville — the epicenter for the immigration battle in Alabama,” county council member Chuck Ellis told The Daily Caller.

In contrast to the disfavor shown by Obama to Alabama, Obama has lavished praise on Michigan, visited the state several times, and cites it as a model for the nation.

On April 18, for example, Obama told a rapt audience in Dearborn, Mich., that “I placed my bets on American workers … [and now] the American auto industry is back. And that happened because of you. That happened because of you.”

On January 27, Obama told a meeting of House Democrats in Cambridge, Md., that “I just came from Michigan … [where] you can feel this sense of renewed purpose and renewed hope … you get a sense of movement, a restoration of hope and possibility.”

Michigan, however, is making slightly slower economic progress than Alabama, despite the massive infusion of federal cash from the auto bailout.

For example. Michigan’s unemployment dropped by 12,000 this March, compared to Alabama’s drop of 12,200.

Michigan’s unemployment rolls are down 96,000 compared to one year ago, compared to Alabama’s drop of 47,000. However, Michigan’s workforce of 4.46 million is more than twice as large as Alabama’s workforce of 2.14 million.

Alabama’s unemployment rate has shrunk back to March 2008 levels, with 157,378 people unemployed in March 2012, said Bentley’s statement.

But Michigan’s rate is 8.5 percent, well above Michigan’s 7.1 percent in March 2008. However, Michigan’s unemployment rate is well down from the disastrous rate 14.1 percent in October 2009.

Both states have Republican governors, Gov. Bentley in Alabama, and Gov. Rick Snyder in Michigan. Neither governor has been complimented, or even mentioned, in Obama’s speeches since the fall.

Follow Neil on Twitter