4 months ago

Which Alabama city is the freest?

Economic freedom is the freedom to engage in commerce and use our property as we see fit. Over the past 25 years, economists have developed measures of the economic freedom of nations and states. A new measure of the economic freedom of metropolitan areas (MSAs) allows us to answer which Alabama city has the most economic freedom?

Measuring economic freedom allows investigation of whether free markets deliver the benefits which economists like I promise. Dozens of papers now document how freer nations and states are richer, grow faster, have less inequality, and cleaner environments.

The Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of North America (EFNA) measures the freedom of U.S. and Mexican states and Canadian provinces. The EFNA’s lead author, Dr. Dean Stansel, has taken the state scores down to the MSA. This index will enable research on whether freer markets help explain the variation in prosperity within states.

The index scores MSAs based on government spending, taxes, and labor market freedom. The ratings use the Census of Governments with data from America’s 90,000 governments, including cities, counties and school districts. Economic freedom is scored on a 0 to 10 scale, with 10 indicating the most freedom. The freest MSA is Naples, Florida, with a score of 8.55, while the least free is El Centro, California, at 4.22. Among MSAs with populations over one million, Houston is best at 8.00 and Riverside worst at 5.23.

Birmingham tops Alabama’s 12 MSAs with a score of 6.81, followed by Montgomery and Huntsville. Alabama’s least free metros are Dothan and Auburn-Opelika, with scores of just over 6.0, a relatively modest difference in freedom. If we dig deeper, Alabama’s metros have the best scores on the taxes component and the worst on labor market freedom.

Economic freedom seems to affect metropolitan income and growth. The freest cities have per capita income 6 percent above average, while the least free cities have income 5 percent below average. The freest MSAs also have significantly faster-growing populations.

I should point out that the index excludes zoning and land use regulation. Zoning makes construction of new housing almost impossible in some of America’s largest cities, preventing construction of higher density apartment buildings. An artificially limited supply increases housing cost.

MSA scores reflect the freedom rankings of their state. Cities from Florida and Texas, two of the freest states, dominate the top of the rankings while California and New York cities populate the bottom ranks. Alabama ranks near the middle of the states, and our MSAs reside in the middle of the national rankings. Among the 52 large MSAs, Birmingham ranks 26. Alabama’s other MSAs rank between 118 and 247 among the 330 MSAs with fewer than one million people.

Sizable differences in freedom exist among the cities of some states. MSA freedom exhibits a spread of 4.3 points across the nation. California, New Jersey, and Texas all have differences of over 2.2 points, or half the national spread. California is a relatively unfree state, but its freest MSA is San Jose, which has helped Silicon Valley’s growth.

Some within-state differences may result from scaling: many of the measures of freedom are scaled by income. This lowers the measured economic freedom of poorer MSAs. To see why, Alabama has no state minimum wage. The Federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour is effective throughout the state. But when divided by MSA per capita income, measured freedom will be lower where income is lowest.

The differences within states illustrate something I call the Upstate New York Dilemma. Economic freedom is just one of many things people care about. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle have lots going for them; people will tolerate high taxes and heavy-handed regulations to live in Manhattan. Many fewer people will accept burdensome government to live in snowy and cold Buffalo or Rochester.

No measure of economic freedom will be perfect. Yet once we measure something, we usually readily improve and refine the measurements. The early returns suggest that economic freedom affects the prosperity of Alabama’s cities.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

34 mins ago

VIDEO: Ivey punishes toll opponents, ongoing impeachment talks, Madison shows the state how to raise taxes and more on Guerrilla Politics …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Should Governor Kay Ivey be punishing toll opponents like State Senator Chris Elliot (R-Daphne) for their disagreements?

— Why not just admit that Democrats are trying to impeach President Donald Trump?

— Why did 70% of voters in Madison say “YES” to a new tax increase?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by State Senator Sam Givhan to talk about road projects and how Alabama Department of Transportation and Governor Ivey move forward after their big defeat.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” where he argues that companies banning their customers from carrying weapons in their stores aren’t really doing anything but chasing good press by placating a mob and their media.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=461031881151175

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.

3 hours ago

Itty Bitty Bakers makes cooking fun and informative for Alabama kids

It starts with a special ingredient – in this case, registered dietician and educator Jessica Hamby.

Combine with the children willing to learn and participate. Flavor in a mix of art, crafts, reading and hands-on learning. Then top off with the capable hands of proven instructors and assistants, and you have Itty Bitty Bakers.

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Hamby started Itty Bitty Bakers in 2018 to bring her own love of cooking with healthy and fresh ingredients to children in her neighborhood. The belief was that if the children had a hand in preparing healthy foods, they would be more inclined to try and then enjoy foods that are better for them.

It worked. Hamby, who has a master’s in health education, created a curriculum that reinforces the recipes and helps teach children about where food comes from, how ingredients are used to make a dish and how cooking can be a fun and creative outlet for people of any age.

Itty Bitty Bakers has the recipe for making cooking fun and educational for kids from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

What started as a couple of summer camp classes quickly grew into monthly classes and then multiple classes for students of different ages.

“It really took off,” said Melissa Carden, an instructor with Itty Bitty Bakers. “It seemed to be something that the community really had a need for. There was always a demand.”

Today, the program has two instructors, teaching assistants, a team of youth helpers and even students from the University of Alabama nutrition program who intern during the summer.

At one recent bakers camp, the students picked basil, used it in a recipe, learned about growing fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables during story time, colored pictures of herbs and even took recipes and basil seeds home with them. The basil was used to make basil-cheddar biscuits, which they got to enjoy during snack time.

Each class and camp teaches children to be comfortable in the kitchen, builds on their understanding of where food comes from and encourages creativity.

“It’s really fascinating how much they enjoy the hands-on – the mixing, the pouring – every child gets to add at least one ingredient to the recipe,” Carden said. “It’s fun to see how capable they are. They’re capable of a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for.”

Itty Bitty Bakers offers classes for preschoolers, grade schooler and pre-teens. There are camps during the summer, classes during the school year and special workshops throughout the year. Prices vary and registration is done online. Itty Bitty Bakers will even organize parties.

Itty Bitty Bakers can be found online, on Facebook, on Instagram and Pinterest.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

Birmingham’s Alie B. Gorrie puts spotlight on disabled performers in new Amazon series

When Alie B. Gorrie moved to New York in 2015 after graduating from Belmont University, she was not unlike other young performers trying to find their way in the big city.

Armed with a resume that included shows at Birmingham’s Red Mountain Theatre Company (RMTC), Gorrie taught yoga and worked part-time as a teacher, all the while auditioning for (and getting some) roles at theater companies in the area.

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But look at Gorrie’s resume, and you’ll see something listed that provided some extra challenges. Under “Special Skills,” she notes that she’s “legally blind/visually impaired,” having been diagnosed at an early age with low vision.

“When I moved to New York, casting directors would say, ‘Why is one of your eyes crossed?’,” Gorrie says. “I didn’t expect to hear that after singing a song. … I’ve faced having to learn how to speak about it and articulate what I needed around it very quickly.”

Gorrie is not alone, and her latest project showcases other performers dealing with their own disabilities in the arts world. Gorrie co-hosts and co-produces, with Kallen Blair, “ABLE: a series,” which is now streaming on Amazon Prime. There are eight 15-minute episodes, each of which focuses on a performer with a disability, including recent Tony Award winner Ali Stroker, who is in a wheelchair.

The series was conceived after Gorrie saw a musical called “Sam’s Room” off-Broadway.

“I‘ve never been so moved by something,” she says of the show about a teen with non-verbal autism. “I had this impulse to buy 10 tickets and invite people I knew to see the show.”

One of those people was Blair, who has a brother with non-verbal autism.

“After the show, she was weeping, and she said that it was the first time she had seen her brother represented so well in a story,” Gorrie says. “That got us started in these inclusion discussions.”

Later, when Gorrie was working in California and Blair in Boston, Blair sent her an email.

“She pitched a documentary series shedding a light on inclusion in theater,” Gorrie recalls. “I said, ‘Yes, yes, sign me up.’”

Each episode features one guest interviewed by Gorrie and Blair. The guests include Evan Ruggiero, a dancer who lost a leg to cancer at age 19; John McGinty, a deaf actor who starred on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God”; and Danny Woodburn, an actor with dwarfism known best for his role on the sitcom “Seinfeld.”
The two interviewed Stroker prior to her Tony nomination and win for “Oklahoma!”

“She is the one who is truly paving the way for disabled artists everywhere now,” Gorrie says.

Gorrie and her family created Songs for Sight, an event that raises money for the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The fundraiser, which has included performers such as Vince Gill, Sara Evans and Grace Potter, celebrates its 10th anniversary with a free concert at Red Mountain Theatre Company in October.

Gorrie really found her calling at RMTC, where she performed for a number of years. She counts RMTC Executive Director Keith Cromwell among those who helped her realize she could pursue a performing career while dealing with her vision issues.

“It took me a while to find teachers and mentors who knew how to not make too big a deal out of it while also not ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist,” Gorrie says.

Cromwell is one who recognized Gorrie’s talents early on.

“When you meet ‘special,’ it has no age, it’s timeless,” he says of Gorrie, who is now 26. “As I watch her grow into a magnificent adult and amazing artist who is changing the world, I could not feel more privileged to witness her advancing her cause, her art, her center – the truth of who she is.”

That’s really what’s at the core of “ABLE,” too, as artists talk about embracing their disabilities and finding opportunities to shine, even though it’s still an uphill battle to get casting directors to cast disabled actors.

Gorrie and Blair are already planning Season 2 of “ABLE,” looking to focus less on individuals and more on theaters and other groups that are embracing inclusion of disabled performers.

“We want to go to theaters and film sets and do documentary-style episodes going into the places that are inclusion champions,” Gorrie says.

“ABLE: a series” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

8 hours ago

Alabama Habitat for Humanity chapter builds 14 homes in 1 week

To say Tonya Torrance is happy would be an understatement.

“It feels great. It’s a feeling that can’t be explained.”

Torrance and her family are one of 14 families who received a new home Thursday as part of this year’s Home Builders Blitz from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The chapter chose to celebrate its 14th anniversary by building 14 homes, a new record according to chapter President and CEO Charles Moore and a task that requires a tremendous amount of organizing and planning.

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“We knew if we followed that plan and stuck to schedule with everybody doing their part, we could complete it on time,” Moore said. “We have hundreds of volunteers helping us, along with skilled tradesmen, professional homebuilders and many more behind the scenes helping with meals and sponsorships. Some of the big corporations in Alabama, such as Wells Fargo and Alabama Power have been with us year after year, as well as the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders — we couldn’t do it without our home builders who volunteer and give us this week of their time and help direct the house that they’re building.”

One of those home builders for this year’s blitz was Danniell Burton, a superintendent and project manager at Taylor Burton Company. Burton grew up helping his dad at Habitat builds, but this was his first year leading a build. He said the experience of building Torrance’s home was awesome.

“It gets stressful throughout the week — tons of subs and your mind is going a bunch of different ways, but to be done with it is awesome,” Burton said. “Seeing the homeowners’ faces walking in and just getting done with it is such a relief.”

Torrance said working with Burton was great.

“He didn’t ask for nothing he wouldn’t do,” Torrance said. “I love him.”

“It really does feel great,” Burton added. “As you make progress every day and seeing their faces is just a great feeling. You work late hours but the drive home at night you realize what you got done for the day and knowing they’re happy is what it’s all about.”

Moore said seeing people come together to help each other is what makes him most proud of the blitz builds.

“There’s no way we could do this without people pitching in to help,” Moore said. “We like to see ourselves as coordinators, as people who bring people together to help make it happen. We recognize that without the volunteers, without the financial support, without all of the folks that make this happen, that this would not happen.”

To learn more about the Home Builders Blitz program from the Greater Birmingham chapter of Habitat for Humanity, visit habitatbirmingham.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

United Way of Central Alabama kicks off fall campaign

In a world where superheroes dominate pop culture, it’s good to be reminded that real, everyday heroes are making a difference in our communities.

That’s one reason United Way of Central Alabama has chosen “Be an everyday hero” as the theme for this year’s fall fundraising campaign.

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The organization has set this year’s goal at $36.5 million, which will help support more than 100 agencies throughout the region. They range from the A.G Gaston Boys & Girls Club to Alabama Goodwill Industries, from the American Cancer Society to the American Red Cross. Other agencies supported by United Way of Central Alabama include the Birmingham Jewish FederationChildren’s of AlabamaGirl Scouts of North Central Alabama, the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, and the volunteer support organization Hands On Birmingham.

“To raise this amount of money is truly a community effort,” said Drew Langloh, president and CEO of United Way of Central Alabama. “It’s everybody in the community coming in together, saying, ‘I want to help my neighbor, I want to help people less fortunate than myself.’”

Langloh has worked his entire 32-year career with the United Way of Central Alabama.

“I am a social worker, and to have the opportunity to work with individuals and corporations throughout our community and find better ways to change lives and help our community is a social worker’s dream come true,” Langloh said.

United Way of Central Alabama has been a part of the community since 1923. This year, Charity Navigator awarded the organization with its the highest rating, four stars, for the 17th consecutive year. The award acknowledges strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency.

“When people give to the United Way, they are helping with the fight for better health, better education, and greater financial stability,” Langloh said.

The need is real:

  • One in six people in Alabama struggles with hunger, and 24% of those are children.
  • Only 21.4% of four-year-olds in Central Alabama have access to the state’s highly recognized First Class Pre-K program.
  • An estimated 15.6% of the population live in poverty in Central Alabama.

But so are the positive results supported through last year’s campaign:

  • Nearly 93,000 people received services from United Way partner agencies and programs.
  • More than 387,800 meals were served to seniors and those with disabilities through Meals on Wheels and the Senior Nutrition Program.
  • A total of 1,126 children received meals daily through the Summer Feeding Program, and seven new feeding sites assisted with food distribution.
  • More than 2,420 seniors received Medicare counseling through United Way’s Area Agency on Aging.
  • More than 13,900 children received literacy support in kindergarten through third grade from United Way partner agency programs.
  • Nearly 7,000 people received job training from United Way partner agency programs.
  • There were 30 financial workshops conducted, reaching 300 individuals.
  • Priority Veteran, a program specifically created to help homeless veterans find stable housing, assisted 555 veterans.
  • There were 39,200 calls received through the United Way of Central Alabama’s 24-hour call-in and referral center.
  • Nearly 6,400 seniors called the United Way Area Agency on Aging of Jefferson County to connect to senior services.

Learn more about United Way of Central Alabama and this year’s campaign by visiting https://www.uwca.org/.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)