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Opinion | Other states use lotteries to give kids a brighter future. Alabama wants to use lottery to build prisons

Josh Moon

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We have a vision problem in Alabama.

We’ve always had a vision problem in this state. We are perpetually satisfied with how things are, with keeping things how they are, with resisting any change whatsoever.

“Nah, we’re good,” should be our state motto.

Even when making a change would benefit us, we resist. Even when following the lead of other, more progressive states would clearly pay huge dividends or just help us close a widening gap, we hold back.

But even worse, when we finally do decide to make a change, too often it’s a reactionary change. One made out of current necessity and not out of a desire to make the future better.

Case in point: A lottery.

All around Alabama, states like Georgia, Florida and Tennessee are using state-run lotteries to provide a brighter future for their states’ citizens. To keep talented young people in their state schools. To provide a means to a brighter future to impoverished students who work hard. To provide relocating companies with a trained and ready workforce.

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They use lotteries to dump millions into these programs, with the goal of watching it all pay off years down the road. And it has. In all three states.

Because the one thing we know for certain about a lottery is that it’s a horrible way to fund normal government function, but it’s a fantastic revenue source for specialty programs, such as pre-K, college scholarships and free two-year college tuition.

As Tennessee, Georgia and Florida have sent a generation of kids off to college now, Alabama lawmakers have resisted the calls from voters — since 1999’s failed lottery vote  — to attempt another lottery proposal.

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Until now.

As most people in the state know, a lottery bill is quickly making its way through the Legislature. It has the backing of some powerful lawmakers, and it appears likely to pass.

It is also awful. For many reasons.

But here’s the most important reason it’s awful: It does the one thing a lottery should never attempt to do.

Fund government.

In particular, lawmakers want this lottery bill to offset the costs of new prisons.

They’ve been so terrible at their job of ensuring state-run prisons didn’t devolve into third-world horror stories that the Department of Justice is on the verge of taking control of our prisons. A federal court has already found that we’ve been almost criminally negligent in failing to staff the prisons or provide medical care to prisoners or provide basic protections to prisoners who are being assaulted or provide mental health care to prisoners who clearly need it.

So, we have to fix our prisons. And it’s going to cost millions.

Lawmakers want the lottery in place to cover those costs, or at least a portion of them.

Think about that.

No. Really. Take a moment and think about the backward absurdity of such a plan.

As the states around us are using lottery money to provide young people with hope (that’s the actual title of their scholarship program), Alabama wants to use those funds for taking away hope. To lock up young people who — let’s be honest here — we mostly never gave a chance in life.

The overwhelming majority of Alabama prisoners grew up in poverty, attended schools that were underfunded and employed a minimum number of teachers. Their classrooms lacked basic supplies and usually had a shortage of books. Their were few, if any, tech options and even fewer teachers for those tech programs. Their cities limited public transportation so they couldn’t get to the best recreational facilities and after-school programs. There were few, if any, tutoring programs available. And many, if not most, left high school reading at a sub-eighth grade level.

And for those who miraculously avoided the never-ending pitfalls and traps of such a life and escaped with a decent GPA and a high school diploma, their futures were mired in college loan debt and working two jobs to get a 4-year degree in six years so they could pay off those loans in 25 years.

We could use a lottery — a real one that generated a half-billion annually instead of this Poarch Creek-written nonsense that’s being pushed — to provide those impoverished kids with an actual chance in life. We could use it to empty our prisons through the success of those kids, instead of having to rewrite drug laws every other year.

We could use this lottery to create a brighter future for all of Alabama.

If only we had the vision.

 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Economy

JumpStartAL launches innovative workforce development initiative

Public-private partnership uses VR-technology, job strategy to train and place participants

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Representatives today announced JumpStartAL, a private-public partnership to help carry out Alabama’s strategy for the future of workforce development. Using leading edge virtual reality (VR) training solutions from job simulator TRANSFRVR, JumpStartAL will offer new education and training programs to develop the state’s next generation of highly skilled workers.

“Alabama is focused on the future,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “JumpStartAL will help ensure that we are positioned to attract the jobs of tomorrow by educating and training Alabamians to take advantage of the opportunities those jobs will provide.”

The initiative will highlight career paths needed for Alabama to meet its goal to increase its workforce by 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025.

JumpStartAL training modules are created with input from industry partners and will help participants develop specific skills needed for jobs, beginning with manufacturing and expanding into other industries in the future. Training is available free of charge for anyone interested in a career in the skilled trades, including high school students, veterans, workers in existing industries, the unemployed and underemployed.

JumpStartAL will initially roll out at five Alabama community colleges, with more campuses and training facilities added in the future:

  • Coastal Alabama Community College
  • Enterprise State Community College
  • Jefferson State Community College
  • Lawson State Community College
  • Shelton State Community College

“Now, more than ever, we must be engaged in new and inventive ways to train the next generation of skilled workers,” said Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker. “Our colleges are committed to meeting students where they are and helping them achieve a better future. Hands-on virtual reality training is a means of achieving that goal.”

The statewide network of partners in the JumpStartAL initiative includes the Alabama Community College System; Ready to Work, which is operated by Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT); the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education; the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development; the Business Education Alliance; TRANSFRVR; Shelby County economic development organization 58 INC; Central Six Alabama Works; and the Alabama Department of Commerce.

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Alabama Power, Altec and Kamtek are among the private sector leaders of JumpStartAL. The statewide business community is supporting the initiative both through job placement strategies and financial efforts.

“It is a great privilege for Altec to be partnering with so many outstanding companies and organizations throughout Alabama on such an innovative workforce development initiative”, said Jay Eichelberger, General Manager for Altec Industries. “JumpStartAL demonstrates Alabama’s leadership role in developing skill-aligned training programs that help broaden employment and economic opportunities. It will ensure that those entering the workforce are much better prepared to succeed, while allowing employers within the state to utilize state-of- the-art training technology that is focused on specific job skills and requirements.”

JumpStartAL also will focus on addressing new challenges and opportunities that arise as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

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“The organizations and companies that make up JumpStartAL have a shared vision of ensuring Alabama and its citizens are well positioned for a prosperous and inclusive future in the 21st century economy,” said Leigh Davis, vice president of economic and community development for Alabama Power. “We are honored to join with them to help make this vision a reality.”

Companies interested in joining the partnership can visit jumpstartal.com. Individuals wanting more information on training locations and how to sign up can learn more at jumpstartal.com/training.

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Economy

Alabama highlighted in Governors Association guide for building a resilient workforce

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As COVID-19 accelerates disruptions impacting the American workforce, the National Governors Association (NGA) issued the findings of a comprehensive two-year project examining ways that governors and other state policymakers can nurture a technologically resilient workforce ready to thrive in an evolving economy.

The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now presents findings and recommendations from the Future Workforce Now: Reimagining Workforce Policy in the Age of Disruption initiative (Future Workforce Now). The guide is available online and via a first-of-its-kind interactive website where users can explore 150 policy and program examples from more than 40 states; in-depth case studies from Alabama, Arkansas and Washington; and global initiatives that promote lifelong learning and that train and credential an evolving workforce.

Alabama is one of three state case studies spotlighted in the report (see page 40). It notes Governor Kay Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, which envisioned creating an education-to-workforce talent pipeline that leads to employment in an occupation that pays a family-sustaining wage regardless of demography or geography.

“I’m honored the National Governors Association selected Alabama as one of the state case studies in their comprehensive workforce guide,” Gov. Ivey said. “As our labor market evolves, it is imperative that our workforce strategy keeps up with the growing demands of business and industry, especially amid the ongoing pandemic. Since launching my Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, we have worked to align our education to workforce pipeline and have created several pathways to reach our goal of adding 500,000 skilled employees to the workforce by 2025. We are proud to showcase our workforce efforts as a model to the rest of the nation.”

Gov. Ivey observed the silos between governmental and nongovernmental entities with a stake in education and workforce development as a significant barrier to accomplishing progress toward this vision.

In response, she established the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation (GOEWT) in 2019 and an accompanying advisory council. The GOEWT Advisory Council is made up of representatives from 22 state agencies who provide the GOEWT with policy recommendations that align with the governor’s education and workforce development strategic plans.

Launched in 2018, Future Workforce Now was led by the NGA Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) in partnership with FHI 360 and the Fab Foundation, with support from the Siegel Family Endowment, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Schmidt Futures. Through topical roundtables with private-sector experts, researchers, and state leaders, Future Workforce Now explored the technological disruptions and global forces shaping the future of work, workers and workplaces; what these changes mean for education, training and state policy; and the most promising policy and practice responses to prepare the workforce of the future.

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The guide found that COVID-19 is likely to exacerbate disruptions already affecting the workforce, including the adoption of automation, shortages of skilled workers in high-demand fields and growing wealth inequality driven by inequitable access to education and training. Because key aspects of education and workforce development programs are determined at the state level, governors are best positioned to commit to systems transformations that enable their citizens to succeed in the workforce of the future. Without these commitments to systems change, the disruptions impacting the workforce will exacerbate inequities that disproportionately affect traditionally disadvantaged and marginalized populations including people of color, those with disabilities, and New Americans.

The guide is a timely resource to help states recover from the impacts of COVID-19, which has inflicted widespread damage on the world and U.S. economy, depressing consumer activity and prompting the highest U.S. unemployment rates in decades.

“While the pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to state economies, governors of both parties around the country are developing strategies for long-term recovery that both anticipate and respond to the transformational changes under way in the American economy and workforce,” said Rachael Stephens, program director for workforce development and economic policy in the NGA Center. “The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now is a timely resource that governors can use to leverage proven innovations and promising ideas and ensure that a rapidly changing economy provides opportunities for all. It will be an especially powerful tool as states navigate an ongoing pandemic, recession, and long-standing issues of racial inequity and economic injustice that are now at the forefront of our national consciousness.”

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The State Guide for Preparing the Future Workforce Now recommends that states:

  • Build statewide ecosystems that promote lifelong learning for all workers by orienting leaders toward a shared vision, investing in data and a transparent credential infrastructure, and aligning funding with state workforce goals.
  • Innovate teaching and learning models to close the digital skills gap by engaging employers to develop demand-driven training programs offering flexible learning pathways for all workers.
  • Increase investments in the comprehensive supports that enable all workers to succeed in the workforce, including access to financial aid, career advice and information, portable credentials, and flexibility to succeed in the gig economy.

Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association (NGA) is the bipartisan organization of the nation’s 55 governors. Through NGA, governors share best practices, address issues of national and state interest and share innovative solutions that improve state government and support the principles of federalism.

 

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Economy

Alabama’s immigrants pay more than $1 billion in annual taxes, study says

Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Immigrants in Alabama are responsible for more than $900 million in federal taxes and more than $350 million in state and local taxes, according to a study published Monday that assessed the economic impacts of immigrants in each state.

Of Alabama’s 4.9 million residents, 162,567 of them, or 3 percent, were foreign-born as of 2018, according to statistics compiled by the American Immigration Council, which advocates for immigration reform.

Alabama residents in immigrant-led households had $3.7 billion in spendable income, the study states.

Of the state’s immigrant population, 34 percent was undocumented in 2016. That is equal to 1 percent of the state’s total population. Undocumented immigrants represented 2 percent of the state’s workforce that year. They paid an estimated $54.1 million in federal taxes and $37.6 million in state and local taxes in 2018.

Roughly 67,000 of the state’s immigrants, or 41 percent, were naturalized citizens as of 2018. Three-quarters reported speaking English “well” or “very well,” according to the study.

A third had a college degree or higher. By comparison, 25 percent of native-born residents of Alabama have that level of education. Twenty-seven percent of immigrants had less than a high school diploma compared to 13 percent of native-born Alabamians.

Mexico is the most common country of origin at 27 percent of immigrants. China and India each account for 6 percent, followed by Guatemala and Germany with 5 percent each.

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The industries employing the largest shares of the immigrant population are construction, services other than public administration, accommodation and food services, agriculture and manufacturing. 

There were 4,000 active recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, as of 2019. Of those eligible for DACA, 58 percent had applied. These groups combined were responsible for $11.4 million in state and local taxes, or 3.2 percent of the total amount paid by foreign-born residents.

Immigrants represented 6 percent of the state’s business owners and generated $319.8 million in business income in 2018, the study said.

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Economy

Extra $600 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits ends July 26

The extra weekly unemployment payment of $600 ends later this month. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26. 

That extra money, meant to help those whose jobs were displaced by coronavirus and through no fault of their own, was made possible through the CARES Act, the federal aid program that is to continue through Dec. 31, 2020, but the extra weekly payment of $600 ends later this month. 

“At this time, the federal government has not changed or extended the FPUC program. States do not have the ability to extend FPUC,” the Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release on Monday. 

The end of the extra assistance will impact more than 25 million Americans, during a time when COVID-19 continues to spread actively through communities. 

More than $1 billion has been pumped into Alabama’s economy through the extra $600-a-week payments to Alabamians, according to the New York City-based think tank The Century Foundation.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments make up 60 percent of total unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic. 

In Alabama, 35,760 people are receiving the extra $600 a week, which totals approximately $91.7 million weekly into the state, according to The Century Foundation, which estimates that benefits to Alabamians receiving unemployment assistance will decrease by 70 percent once the extra $600 a week dries up. 

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The average current combined unemployment benefits in Alabama is $854.95 and after the end of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, the remaining unemployment benefit will be roughly $254.95.

There are also racial justice implications in the end to the extra $600 a week in aid, according to the think tank.

“Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina all have average unemployment benefits below $300 per week, as a result of both low wages and unemployment insurance rules that simply offered less protection to predominantly black workforces,” The Century Foundation’s report notes.

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In Alabama, 57 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to April were women and 50 percent were white, while 43 percent were Black, while Black people make up only 27 percent of the state’s population.

The report states that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit was intended to be a public health measure, helping workers while they stay home until it is safe to go back to work.

“Just as rushed reopenings put families at risk, eliminating FPUC now will force people to rush back to work before it is safe,” the report reads.

Job seekers can visit their local Career Center or search jobs online without cost at alabamaworks.alabama.gov

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