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Sunday Discussion: East Alabama The 5th Poorest Area In America


Just when things could not get any worse for all of East Alabama, a new article from and Yahoo News comes out and it paints a very bleak picture for East Alabama.  According to the article, the Talladega/Sylacauga area has been ranked as the 5th poorest area in America.  The article bases its list on the annual American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Of course, the leaders of the communities are not happy with this article.  They would tell you that the Sylacauga and Talladega areas are full of opportunity, what opportunities?

Yes, this area has a couple of assets like the Talladega Superspeedway and the Honda Car Plant.  But, these jobs are not even a drop in a bucket to what is needed to turn the entire East Alabama region around.  East Alabama used to be much different than it is today.  20 years ago, there were many jobs available in cities like Talladega, Sylacauga, Alexander City, Anniston, Gadsden, and other cities.  Than the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA was signed.  When the bill was signed by the presidents of Canada, Mexico, and the Untied States, this began the downward spiral of East Alabama.

Companies like Avondale Mills and Russell Corporation found it much easier and cheaper to ship their textile jobs to Mexico where they could find cheaper labor.  And with NAFTA signed, tariffs were waived on various goods and services.  This was the beginning of the downfall for East Alabama.  In the early 1990’s, Russell and Avondale began to close down mills and layoff people.  These jobs were simply shipped off to Latin America and later China.   Alexander City was the place that experienced the most jobs being shipped away.  Over 20 years ago, more than 10,000 people were employed by Russell.  Today, almost all of those jobs are gone and Alex City is going downhill fast.

Things have gotten so bad in Alex City, a reality show called “Bamazon” was on the History Channel last year which featured unemployed men from Alex City and Dadeville who went to South America to mine for gold in the jungle.  Sadly, not much gold was found.  Also, a New York Times article actually talked about how women are now the breadwinners of the family, it’s worth a read!  In Anniston, Fort McClellan closed down in the 1990’s and the draw down of the wars in the Middle East have resulted in many jobs being cut.  East Alabama has relied on textile and military jobs for a very long time, this was never a good strategy.

What can people do in East Alabama to find jobs?  So far, people have either given up or are driving many miles to just get to a job.  Some people from Anniston and Alex City are driving up to 100 miles away to just work.  And some people have given up on the entire East Alabama region and have moved away for good.  In Calhoun County for 2012, over 1,000 people moved out of the county.  Mostly because there are no jobs to be found.  And some people have no choice but to move out of Calhoun County and East Alabama to find any job.  Out of the country’s 381 metropolitan areas, Calhoun County ranked 346 in terms of weakest GDP in 2012, meaning 35 metro areas had a larger decrease in their GDP.  Calhoun County was also the worst metro area in Alabama for GDP in 2012.

And in Gadsden, a 24/7 Wall Street analysis has named Gadsden the fourth poorest city in the United States.  Poor Gadsden, way back in 1989,  A Rand McNally article in listed Gadsden as one of the Seven Worst Cities to Live in the United States.”   Gadsden has seen a sharp decline in industry in the last 20 years and many people have simply moved on.  Again, this should come as no surprise as the entire East Alabama region is in deep trouble.

When the Talladega/Sylacauga was ranked as the 5th poorest area in America.  Some people did not believe the article, but I believe it!  I also believe this article is also talking about the entire East Alabama region from Alexander City, Sylacauga, Talladega, Anniston, Gadsden, and everything in between.  I write this Geek Alabama blog and I have made many connections with people all across East Alabama.  The problem, many of these people I know are also unemployed.  Yeah, when this region has lost tens of thousands of jobs and few of those jobs have been replaced, you are going to have many people who are unemployed.

During a fall festival a few weeks ago here in Anniston, I ran into many people who know me.  And we talked about how we can’t find any jobs anywhere in Anniston or East Alabama.  Many people I talked too are already considering moves to places like Chattanooga, Birmingham, Nashville, Mobile, and other places just to find a job.  These people have already given up on East Alabama and are willing to move anywhere just for a job.  I have already told several people who were thinking about moving to East Alabama to not move here, unless they had a job already lined up.  For anyone who is thinking about moving to East Alabama and thinking they will find a job quickly, good luck with that!

To the leaders of every city and county in East Alabama.  Quit living in denial.  East Alabama is in really deep trouble.  You can not continue to have the people struggle because there are no jobs available.  Sure, there are several great non-profits who are helping some of the people who are struggling.  But they are having a hard time keeping up because there are a record amount of people wanting to get help.  There is truth to this article that ranks East Alabama as the 5th poorest area in America.  If the leaders would concentrate on recruiting new jobs so people would not have to suffer, than this article would have never happened.

I am very interested to see what the final results of the Clear Plan 2030 Capstone Conservation will be.  Later this month, the results to improve the East Alabama region will be released to the public.  And these results will help shape the future of East Alabama.  I am hoping the results will include options and ways for recruiting new jobs to places like Alex City, Anniston, Sylacauga, Gadsden, Talladega, and the rest of East Alabama.  I wonder if I will still be here when the results are revealed?  Because I have been unemployed for 28 months and filled out over 450 job applications with no success.  Many people, bloggers, and even companies I have worked with have said that I need to leave East Alabama for good.  Because they know how bad the East Alabama region has gotten, and I am not making excuses.  It’s really that bad in East Alabama.

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