Editorial Roundup: Alabama

Dothan Eagle. October 23, 2021.

Editorial: Poisoned smokes

The relative leniency in sentencing of a former North Alabama jailer who laced an inmate’s cigarettes with self-defense spray should alarm every Alabamian and prompt lawmakers to review laws that would apply in such cases.

A former corrections officer in Morgan County, Jaylend Edward Handley, pleaded guilty to four counts of third-degree assault, having been charged with spraying an inmate’s cigarettes with an irritant spray usually used as a tool in self-defense.

Handley poisoned the cigarettes in retaliation for something the inmate had said. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in jail, a $2,000 fine, and two years’ probation, as well as disqualification for work in law enforcement.

The inmate shared his cigarettes with three others; all four were sickened and taken to a hospital as a precaution.

It could have been much worse. Jail personnel have a responsibility to the safety of the men and women in their charge. While the inmates are incarcerated because of crimes they committed against society, they’re also vulnerable to the actions of their captors. Society entrusts jail personnel to treat inmates with human dignity.

If a corrections officer could spike an inmate’s cigarettes with pepper spray, he could just as easily do so with a far more lethal substance.

Alabama is currently subject to litigation from the U.S. Justice Department for the lack of inmate safety in state lockups, among other deficiencies.

Corrections officers who contribute to that lack of safety should be treated harshly.

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Decatur Daily. October 24, 2021.

Editorial: Solutions needed for declining workforce

The Issue

Workforce participation is stagnant or declining, leaving employers desperate to fill positions.

Employers virtually everywhere are searching for employees, who seem in short supply even as unemployment claims continue to fall from their pandemic-driven heights.

Alabama’s September unemployment of 3.1% was unchanged from August’s figure, which was the lowest in the Southeast and among the lowest in the country.

It was also less than half of what it was the previous year, according to the state Department of Labor.

“Businesses have gained more than 63,000 jobs over the year, and some of the hardest hit industries, including the leisure and hospitality industry, continue to lead the state in over-the-year growth and registering significantly higher wages,” Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said Friday.

Yet many employers remain desperate for workers. Many are raising their entry-level wages. In some cases, unskilled, entry-level employees are making market-driven wages close to or in excess of the $15 per hour minimum activists have spent years clamoring for, rendering the “Fight for 15” either irrelevant or obsolete, depending on your point of view.

Auburn University recently announced it is raising the minimum wage it pays its workers to $14.50 an hour for full-time workers, which will affect more than 200 employees.

Across the state, the University of Alabama is facing a shortage of workers to sell concessions during football games. UA has turned to a smartphone app, allowing fans to order on their phones and then pick up their snacks when ready, to deal with lines people have complained are too long and too slow.

The situation at UA may be a harbinger of things to come. The longer businesses have to deal with a shortage of workers, the more they will adopt technological workarounds, like the self-checkouts that are now in many stores and order kiosks that are starting to appear in some restaurants — also spurred on by consumers preferring contract-free experiences during the pandemic.

The low unemployment rate may offer only part of the picture. Unemployment figures do not count those who are both not working and not seeking work. There’s good reason for that: You don’t want to count retirees, for example. But it can lead to a misleading picture when people suddenly stop looking for work for other reasons.

Alabama’s workforce participation rate — the number of people working or actively seeking work — is declining.

Alabama’s most recent labor force participation rate was 56.6% for August, down slightly from the pre-pandemic level of 57.9% in August 2019, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. That’s about 31,490 people exiting the state’s workforce over two years. Surrounding states are seeing similar workforce participation declines, despite the end of extended unemployment benefits and COVID relief checks.

Experts, activists and lawmakers argue over the best way to get people back into the workforce, with proposals ranging from increasing the Earned Income Tax credit to subsidizing child care and transportation. These may be sound proposals, but they all deal with the issue at the margins. Child care and transportation didn’t just recently become issues for working parents. So why now are they deterring people from entering the workforce when they didn’t previously?

We need more answers if we’re to find real solutions, and we need those answers before enacting trendy new policies such as the universal basic income, or UBI, that theoretically would help end poverty by providing everyone a guaranteed monthly income but could make the problem worse instead.

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