It's about jobs: Economic growth essential to getting off the bottom, District 7 candidates say
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- People in Alabama's 7th Congressional District need jobs if the area is to be lifted from the bottom of national prosperity rankings and lowered from the top of poverty and population loss listings, both candidates agree.
U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell and her challenger, former Birmingham city attorney Tamara Harris Johnson, say that economic development is the most pressing issue in the district that runs from Birmingham down to the Black Belt.
But Sewell and Johnson offer different approaches when it comes to making significant improvements, as they describe in a recent question-and-answer session with AL.com.
District 7 struggles with a 14 percent unemployment rate, and more than half of the 256,000 households, 140,483, earn less than $35,000 a year, according to census numbers. In fact, 109,000 households earn less than $25,000.
"How we've tried to address the job situation is head-on with a results-oriented solution," Sewell said, noting her series of job fairs throughout the district as one of several initiatives.
Sewell, who seeks a third term, said she sponsored several bills in Congress to enhance opportunities, but was frank in her forecast for sweeping legislation.
"The political reality in this Congress is that as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Congress, those probably won't go anywhere," she said. "So I've concentrated on local initiatives like annual job fairs and realizing that this district is vast and there's no one size fits all."
Sewell said she has been successful in collaborating with two-year colleges for job training through her project READY, a workforce development initiative launched last year.
Sewell also formed a Workforce Advisory Council composed of local employers, nonprofits and state and educational institutions that focus on career training and development.
Johnson has panned Sewell's job fairs, questioning the placement rate, costs and overall success of the highly public events. Instead, Johnson proposed what she called a "tripartite approach"' to job recruitment: infrastructure, training and transportation.
"I'm not really a proponent of the job fair kind of category because there are so many moving parts," Johnson said. "You've got to be able to have the infrastructure in place when you're trying to seek people to come to the state.
"I believe in a collaborative effort, and there's investment and buy-in as well."
Johnson said that the district, because of its diverse nature, requires a dynamic approach to development. Needs in urban Birmingham are much different than in the Black Belt rural areas.
The election is June 3.