If you want to measure the financial vitality of a region–look at job growth.
Our Birmingham seven county metropolitan area* has fewer people employed today than in 2007.
That’s nearly a decade with a net loss of jobs.
Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin have had double digit increases.
According to the Birmingham Business Journal, (Metropolitan) “Birmingham is down about 19,100 jobs from its pre-recession peak.”
Much of the blame belongs to our racial divide–provoked by our fragmented government structure.
Angry blacks rail against white government
At a recent Birmingham Council meeting, angry black citizens railed against what they see as an oppressive white government…
“We have a state legislature down there which is just as segregated as Jim Crow…They have perpetuated themselves to roll back the clock on black people…It’s the state Republican Party that is all white, lily white, nobody black…”
Is black anger justified?
In February the Birmingham City Council passed a bill to raise the minimum wage. The State legislature immediately passed legislation to nullify it.
This legislation was proposed by a Mountain Brook Republican.
This gives the appearance that a primarily white state government and a white bedroom community are ruling black Birmingham.
I don’t agree with some of the Birmngham City Council’s decisons and I don’t think a minimum wage increase would be good for Birmingham, but Birmingham should be allowed to manage its own affairs.
This would never happen in Nashville
We have divided Jefferson County into 35+ municipalities defined by race and income. Birmingham is perceived as black and Mountain Brook as white.
The same action by the State of Tennessee would not have the same racial overtones for Nashville because Nashville has a combined county/city government. Nashville is not a black city or a white city. It is just Nashville.
Nashville has a Metropolitan Council. The Council is a 40-member body of elected representatives of which 35 are elected by district and 5 are elected at-large, or county-wide. The presiding officer is the Vice Mayor, who is elected at-large by the citizens of Nashville and Davidson County.
In Nashville everyone, black and white, has a seat at the grown up table.
In Birmingham we have 35 separate tables all competing against one another.
St. Louis (Ferguson) is more fragmented than Birmingham
If you think our Birmingham region has racial problems, St. Louis puts us to shame.
St. Louis is more fragmented than Birmingham and has much worse racial issues.
St. Louis City is actually not in St. Louis County and St. Louis County is composed of 92 separate cities. Also, St. Louis is on the border of Illinois-Missouri—so it is governed by two state legislatures.
St. Louis and Ferguson (a suburb) prove that government segmentation can result in racial chaos.
Our outdated racially motivated state constitution denies power to local governments
Our 1901 state constitution was written primarily to control blacks and poor whites and is still doing its job.
Through the powers given to the state legislature through that constitution, local governments are ruled from Montgomery.
Our State Legislature has enough on its plate to solve Alabama’s problems—so how does it have the bandwidth and capability to micromanage Birmingham?
Birmingham should be allowed to make it’s own decisions and then live with the rewards or the consequences.
We need to come together as a community
We can’t be satisfied with fewer jobs, less financial opportunities, and a lower standard of living.
Race is the big elephant in Birmingham’s room and until we acknowledge and organize ourselves to work together we will remain muddled in mediocrity.
*Metropolitan Birmingham: Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker Counties)
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).