Nearly 400 temporary workers at Anniston Army Depot were laid off last week. Military officials say there simply isn’t enough work for the depot’s workforce now that U.S. troops are in the process of returning home.
To make matters worse, sequestration in Washington may deliver furloughs to the depot’s more than 3,000 permanent civilian workers.
In other words, the hand that has historically fed Anniston — money from federal sources — is now punching the city in the face.
When times are good — workforce-wise — Anniston’s long-standing over-reliance on government-sector jobs seems a wise choice. Wars throughout the 20th century rendered Fort McClellan invaluable. Military needs created the depot in the early 1940s. The mandate to destroy the nation’s stockpile of chemical weapons birthed good-paying jobs at the incinerator. On and on it goes.
But this scenario’s flip side isn’t rosy. When wars end, when military needs diminish, when the stockpile is destroyed, jobs vanish, unemployment rises and poverty awaits. It’s a basic tale of feast-or-famine that’s been told over and over again in towns that long ago embraced a weak business model that undervalued the need to diversify their local economies and made cities dependent on federal machinations.
Anniston provides the perfect example.
Last week, the Institute for Southern Studies released a report that did not mention Anniston, though it easily could have. Its thesis was instructive: the prevalence of Southern cities and states to adhere to low-tax, regressive-tax politics that decry federal spending yet readily accept federal assistance — if not seek it out — when times are lean. The hypocrisy is obvious.
Losing 371 temporary positions at the depot was a gut-punch for the county’s economy. That’s a lot of local families with a reduced, if not a vanished, income. Their pain is real.
Calhoun County needs many improvements, but one of the most vital would be the diversification of its employers, more wealth creation and less wealth transfer. The unpleasant lessons we’re enduring during these drawdowns are unmistakable.