Alabama’s Unemployment Rates Higher Than Neighboring States

Alabama, officially the Yellowhammer State but nicknamed the New Detroit, is undergoing a manufacturing renaissance. After the textile industry died, the auto manufacturing and its related auto parts suppliers’ plants were welcomed to both Alabama and neighboring Georgia and Tennessee. Despite the new manufacturing jobs, Alabama is perpetually struggling economically.

Alabama’s top employment sectors include:

  • Manufacturing
  • Health Care
  • Retail
  • Food Services
  • Education

Alabama also shares a border with Mississippi and Florida. Alabama shares more than a border with Georgia and Mississippi, all three have higher than average unemployment rates.

Unemployment Rates

While Alabama’s unemployment rate remains higher than the national average, it dropped to 4.9 percent in May 2017, which is the lowest unemployment rate the state has seen since March 2008. May’s unemployment rate ranked Alabama at number 40 in the nation in a tie with neighbors Georgia and Mississippi. Additional jobs in the hospitality, construction and manufacturing sectors contributed to the decrease.

Alabama’s Pro-Business Environment

Despite Alabama’s pro-business environment, tax and non-tax incentive packages, tax incentives and financing programs, the state lags behind its neighbors in economic development. The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama has high profile wins, yet for the billions that Alabama spent wooing automobile manufactures and other employers, the state’s unemployment rate remains higher than its neighbors do.

Alabama gave Mercedes incentives worth $258 million to $439 million twenty years ago to build a manufacturing facility in the state, neighboring Tennessee paid far less to secure a Nissan plant in 1980.

New manufacturing facilities are not always a community’s savior that politicians claim will result in significantly lower unemployment rates. In Alabama, residents with college degrees or training in trades are at a premium, therefore, new employers attracted by the incentives are looking beyond the unemployed and consider currently underemployed workers as potential employees.

Workforce Training

Every year the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama surveys Alabama business leaders to gauge their business confidence. In 2017, the top issue facing the Yellowhammer state is education and workforce training. A better-educated workforce will eventually induce economic growth, however Alabama, along with Mississippi, has fewer jobs available for college graduates than other southern states.

Alabama’s jobs of tomorrow will require a college degree or industrial training, which is true for the nation, not only in Alabama. A damning analysis by the Business Education Alliance and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama says that Alabama’s workforce does not have the post secondary education to curb the higher than average unemployment rate that plagues the state.

Preparing residents for increased employment opportunities will require advising high school students to consider training in skilled trades and cooperation between the business community and education systems to determine which skill sets are in-demand. Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce Greg Canfield says, “This initiative, which links Alabama’s business sector and education systems in a partnership, will help to create opportunities for residents and develop the pipeline of workers the state needs to fully realize its economic potential.”

Why Alabama’s Unemployment Rates Higher Than Neighboring States?

Alabama has perpetually higher unemployment rates than her neighbors; lower tax revenues. The state’s tax revenues fund universities, new highways and other infrastructure, however, Alabama residents have few assets to tax, and those that are taxed, are taxed at a low rate. Tax incentives to businesses to relocate to the state lower Alabama’s revenues even more. Alabama’s neighbors bring in more state and local tax revenues; therefore, they can invest in infrastructure and education, which major employers look for when relocating. Alabama is the fourth poorest state in the nation, and neighboring Mississippi is the poorest.