by Pamela Powers Hannley
Tucson is one of the most impoverished cities in the country—for many reasons. The Arizona Legislature—driven by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and short-sighted, “small government” ideology—has routinely swept funds earmarked for counties and cities to "balance" the state’s budget or fund pet projects like lower corporate taxes.
Beyond the Legislature’s negative impact on Baja Arizona, the Tucson economy is not diversified enough. Manufacturing is nearly non-existent in Southern Arizona. There is an over-reliance on defense spending, University of Arizona spin-offs, tourism, low-wage service jobs, and growth/development. During the Great Recession, multiple income streams for our local economy were dramatically reduced or eliminated—resulting in the loss of hundreds, if not thousands of good-paying jobs due to budget cuts, business closures, and the housing market crash. People and jobs left the area.
In August, the Arizona Daily Star ran a week-long series on multiple aspects of poverty in Southern Arizona and just this week, the Star ran a story that stated Tucson was second only to Detroit in the proliferation of crappy, low-wage jobs. In a survey of 52 metro areas with over 1 million residents, Tucson was in the top 10 for job creation; the problem is that more than half of the projected 28,000 new jobs will pay less than $13.84/hour. (If you really want to be depressed, check out the list of Tucson's fastest growing occupations here. None of these jobs requires a college education. Thanks to TREO's efforts, telemarketer is #1. Thanks to Tucson's ample supply of old folks, the next four most popular jobs are low-wage health/caregiver positions. We won't break the cycle of poverty in this city with a jobs picture like this.)
So, we know that our city has big economic challenges. Now what? As I wrote back in August, it's time for some creative economic solutions. It's time to STOP our addiction to military spending. It's time to STOP relying on temporary construction jobs and low-wage hospitality industry jobs. It's time to defund TREO and STOP chasing rainbows by competing with other metro areas for "the next IBM" or the next spring training team. It's time to STOP sending our money to Wall Street for investment. It's time to START investing in Tucson. It's time for public banking. [Read why after the jump.]