By Tara Jollie
July 11, 2011
Political pundits say jobs will be the number one issue in the upcoming presidential election. I hope they are right. We haven’t done anything about it in Alaska worth bragging about.
Rural Alaska has had depression era joblessness for the last thirty years (that I know of) and more likely since the subsistence economy was largely displaced by the cash economy. The need for cash has increased while the opportunities to earn cash have not increased at the same pace. A great inequity exists between those who can participate in our economy and those who cannot.
State government has not demonstrated any vision or provided any leadership to address this economic inequity. It is shameful. It gets some lip service in an election year but that’s about it. Others just put their ignorance right on the table and say “If it costs too much, they should just move to where the jobs are!” I suppose, if one has no deep sense of heritage or home, one could just move without much duress. This strategy doesn’t work well for many others.
If the jobless issue is left to the bureaucracy to deal with, we will stay stuck in the past. Change is not encouraged at the Alaska Department of Labor. In fact, the longevity of its senior managers is a bragging point for AKDOL. What is the Alaska Department of Labor’s vision to reduce unemployment? Think Apprentice. Are you serious? This is a one trick pony if ever there was one. It is another way of sticking your head in the sand and just doing nothing at all. Taking a Governor moose hunting cannot be the only qualifier to head the Labor department, can it? Somebody please say it isn’t so! It is the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome. Let’s do something – anything – differently!
Alaskans need a group comprised of brilliant leadership and creative minds to tackle joblessness in rural Alaska. Given the dynamics of cultural diversity, geographic hurdles, educational disparities, and limited infrastructure as it relates to workforce development is a huge challenge. I realize the Alaska Workforce Investment Board exists. It reports to the Governor on paper. In reality, it supports the Commissioner of Labor. It is therefore rendered ineffective. These are good people stuck in a bad situation.
The legislature needs to create such a group. The creative minds are here. The group should be a balance of organizations, variety of perspectives, and regional expertise. The group would be charged with reporting their action plan and recommendations to the legislature after public comment is taken. Take the bureaucracy out of the equation; it is part of the problem not the solution!
Rural Alaska has been stuck in the rut of depression era joblessness for much too long! Any plan for natural resource development needs to require a section for fair and equitable local workforce development and hire - with local defined by the impacted residents.
Anchorage and Fairbanks had the federal government to provide the foundation for their economic and infrastructure development. It is time for the state to provide the same for rural Alaska. That is, after all, where all of the state’s riches come from. Rural Alaskans deserve a fair share of resource extraction revenue. An equitable revenue distribution formula is in order.
In fact, it is way overdue.
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Received July 09, 2011 - Published July 11, 2011
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