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Economy

Report: Alabama children’s wellness making slight gains, but racial disparities remain

Eddie Burkhalter

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Children in Alabama are faring slightly better than they were last year across several wellness indicators, but almost 300,000 Alabama children, 26 percent, still live in poverty, and racial disparities remain across every key wellness indicator. 

According to the 2019 Alabama Kids Count released publicly on Tuesday the state’s infant mortality rate is at an all-time low, and the percent of births to teens has dropped, but other key indicators – low birth weight and the number of women receiving adequate prenatal care – remain largely unchanged. The report is released annually by Voices for Alabama’s Children, a nonprofit children’s advocacy group. 

Angela Thomas, communications manager for Voices for Alabama’s Children told APR on Tuesday that the state’s child population is decreasing as it’s simultaneously becoming more racially diverse. 

Children under the age of 20 make up 24.9 percent of Alabama’s overall population, down from 28.2 percent in 2000. White children under the age of 20 made up approximately 63 percent of the state’s population in 2000, and 57.8 percent in 2018. 

Alabama’s population of hispanic children has seen the largest growth, increasing from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 7.7 percent in 2018, but the state’s ability to care for children of color continues to fall short. 

“We are still seeing significant disparities exist between white children and children of color,” Thomas said. “children of color have that disparity in every single domain that we study in the data book.” 

The report notes that the state’s infant mortality rate was at an all-time low in  2017, when Alabama’s infant mortality rate was 7.4 per 1,000 live births, down from 9.1 percent in 2016, but the black infant mortality rate remains the highest, despite declining from 15.1 per 1,000 in 2016 to 11.3 in 2017. 

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“African American babies are double in this indicator than their white peers. They’re actually double every single race group, including hispanic, in infant mortality, Thomas said. 

For the first time last year the report also tracked school suspensions by race, and discovered that black children are suspended almost three times as often as their white counterparts. 

“Suspension represents a major interruption in the educational routine of students, and often has a lasting impact on students’ academic and behavioral performance and achievement,” the report states. 

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Thomas said Voices continues to encourage lawmakers and advocates to push for policies and practices that will address the racial disparities found in the latest figures, but that the fixes won’t be simple. 

“Not one specific thing is going to fix all of these things, and it’s definitely not going to fix them overnight, but a combination of all of us working together and a combination of policies working together can definitely make an impact,” Thomas said. 

This year’s report is the last before the 2020 U.S. Census, so advocates are urging full participation to ensure the state’s most vulnerable children receive the help they’ll need. 

That census data is invaluable to Voices, which uses it to track the wellbeing of the state’s children, and the data is used by numerous state agencies to set budgets. If children are undercounted the support programs that help them go underfunded. 

Children living in poverty in the state are the most likely to be undercounted in the census, Thomas said, partially because of the dynamic family structures.  

Alabama ranks fourth highest in the nation for children who live with grandparents, tying with New Mexico at 13.9 percent, according to Partnership for America’s Children. Thomas said many grandparents may not list those children in the census application. 

In the 2010 census more than 17,000 Alabama children under the age of five went uncounted, according to Voices. 

“It is absolutely critical for our state’s youngest citizens that Alabama achieve maximum participation in the 2020 Census,” said Gov. Kay Ivey’s spokeswoman, Gina Maiola, in a message to APR on Tuesday. “From the beginning, Governor Ivey has stressed the impact this would have on healthcare, infrastructure, education, and many other additional resources we depend upon from the federal government.” 

Maiola wrote that Ivey is “highly aware that children, especially those between the ages 0-5, are among the largest underrepresented groups in the census” and that she’s working to engage everyone in the state to achieve maximum participation in the 2020 census. 

Other notable findings in the 2019 report are: 

  • Children with indications of abuse or neglect increased from the rate of 10.2 per 1,000 in 2017 to 11.4 per 1,000 children in 2018, when more than 12,000 children were involved in reports of abuse or neglect that year. 
  • In 2017, there were 164 preventable deaths for teens aged 15-19 years old, which is an approximate 20 percent decrease from the previous year.
  • Births to teens aged 15-17 years old decreased by more than 60 percent since 2017.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Economy

New unemployment claims drop slightly

Micah Danney

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There were 8,848 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, slightly fewer than the 8,902 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.

Of the claims filed between Sept. 6 and Sept. 12, 4,485, or 51 percent, were related to COVID-19. That’s the same percentage as the previous week.

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Economy

Inaugural Alabama Works innovator awards presented

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The inaugural AlabamaWorks! Innovator Awards were presented by Gov. Kay Ivey and Deputy Director of Commerce and AIDT Director Ed Castile Thursday during the AlabamaWorks! Virtual Conference.

The awards were developed to highlight people and programs across the state that take an innovative approach to solving workforce challenges and help advance Ivey’s Success Plus attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025.

At the time of the inception of the awards, Alabama was unaware of the impact COVID-19 would have on the workforce and although the attainment goal has not changed, our economic and workforce recovery post-COVID-19 will hinge on innovators like those recognized.

“The workforce challenges that we face today are not the same ones that we faced six months ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely reshaped the workforce landscape,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “The State of Alabama is relying on those who are leading the charge by implementing innovative solutions in their cities, counties and regions to further economic and workforce development.”

The recipients are visionaries, outside-of-the-box thinkers and problem solvers. The programs test boundaries, explore new opportunities and reach deeper to bring about change. “It is important to recognize these leaders of innovation and to thank them for their hard work and dedication to the citizens, communities and industries of Alabama,” said Ed Castile, deputy director of commerce and AIDT director. “Their innovative approach to workforce development will be key to opening doors, breaking barriers and propelling Alabamians forward.”

The recipients of the first-ever AlabamaWorks Innovator Awards are as follows:

Region 1 – North AlabamaWorks – Beth Brumley, Colbert County Schools

Beth Brumley built the Health Science Program for Colbert County Schools from the ground up by using her experience in the healthcare field to provide critical, real-world skills to her students. She developed key relationships within the healthcare community to provide her students enhanced learning opportunities and exposure, which resulted in increased demand for program graduates. Beth was also named the 2020 National New Teacher of the Year through the Association for Career and Technical Education. By bridging the gap between education and employer, Beth has created a formula for success that positively impacts the workforce.

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Region 2 – East AlabamaWorks – The Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement (SAFE)

SAFE has been a model for supportive services to empower individuals and families while fostering positive and healthy development of the community for nearly 25 years. In their program, SAFE combines occupational and employability skills to help job seekers be ready to enter the workforce regardless of barriers they may have faced in the past. Their dedication to providing practical solutions to modern problems is a testament to their heart for service and passion for helping their community and region.

Region 3 – West AlabamaWorks – Dr. Mike Daria, Superintendent Tuscaloosa City Schools

Dr. Daria has played a crucial role in the success of West Alabama’s workforce development by fostering important relationships between industry and education. His leadership has focused on increased Career Technical Education (CTE) enrollment, supporting local Worlds of Work events and the Educator Workforce Academy. Dr. Daria’s emphasis on the importance of identifying career pathways for the students in his district and then providing viable opportunities for students to take those paths, make him invaluable to West Alabama.

Region 4 – Central Six AlabamaWorks – Ed Farm

Ed Farm is the signature program of TechAlabama that focuses on encouraging children and adults to discover and pursue STEM careers. Ed Farm has a vision for a world full of invention, led by citizens who have been equipped with the necessary tools to fill or create the careers of the future. Through equipping educators and communities with innovative tools, strategies and programs they are able to support active learning for all students. With three signature tracks, Ed Farm is poised to help increase educational equity and improve learning outcomes through technology all while preparing the future tech workforce.

Region 5 – Central AlabamaWorks – Tiger Mochas, Auburn City Schools

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Tiger Mochas is a collaborative effort between special education students, FCCLA (Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America) members and peer volunteers at Auburn High School. This student-led organization is serving up a lot more than hot cups of coffee to their peers because through their work, students are provided meaningful, hands-on work experience that teaches important functional, social and daily living skills. Graduates of the program leave with not only work and employability skills, but in-demand soft skills that will help them succeed in life and work.

Region 6 – Southeast AlabamaWorks – WeeCat Industries

WeeCat Industries uses a simulated workplace model to meet the growing demand for a skilled workforce. WeeCat saw an opportunity to begin teaching work ethics and employability skills as early as preschool, and rose to the challenge. Their students clock into work, run an assembly line, fill orders, check invoices, meet production quota, interview for new positions and implement quality control all while earning a “paycheck” to be spent at the WeeCat Store before they can even spell the word “school”. WeeCat Industries places invaluable skills at a crucial age in development which will shape the future of the workforce.

Region 7 – SAWDC AlabamaWorks – Ed Bushaw

Ed Bushaw with the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce researched and developed initiatives to address the region’s workforce supply to meet the needs of the growing hospitality and tourism industry in his region. His collaborative efforts with business and industry officials resulted in the development of the first Hospitality and Tourism registered apprenticeship program in Alabama. Apprentices receive classroom instruction as well as valuable real-world experience within the hospitality and tourism industry and finish the program with a credential that can be used to advance their career. Ed’s ability to adapt to the needs of industry and implement programs that address those needs are vital to the continued success of southwest Alabama.

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Economy

Report: Transitioning to electric vehicles could save Alabama millions in health costs

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

Micah Danney

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Alabama could save $431 million in public health costs per year by 2050, if the state shifted to an electric transportation sector between now and then, according to a new study by the American Lung Association.

Such a transition would reduce other health-related issues, said the organization, which used data on pollution from vehicles and from oil refineries to calculate its findings.

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

The transportation sector is one of the main contributors to air pollution and climate change, said William Barrett, the association’s director of advocacy for clean air and the study’s author.

“We have the technology to transition to cleaner cars, trucks and buses, and by taking that step we can prepare Alabama for the future while also seeing the health and economic benefits forecasted in ‘The Road to Clean Air,’” Barrett said. “Especially as our state faces the impacts of climate change, such as extreme storms, this is a powerful and practical opportunity to take action to improve our economy, our health and our future.”

Trading combustion-powered vehicles for electric ones could result in $11.3 billion in avoided health costs across southern states by mid-century, the report estimated, and prevent roughly 1,000 premature deaths.

Nationally, Americans stand to save $72 billion in health costs and $113 billion in avoided climate change impacts, the ALA said.

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The path to that future depends on leaders factoring public health effects into decisions about transportation, Barrett said.

That involves steps like pursuing electric vehicle fleets when purchasing decisions are being made and supporting the creation of enough charging stations along highways, roads and at truck stops.

Investing in that infrastructure can drive wider economic benefits, Barrett said. He cited California’s increased manufacturing of electric vehicles.

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Tesla is the most well-known producer that has located there, but Barrett said that makers of trucks and buses have also chosen to locate their facilities in the state.

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Economy

Gov. Kay Ivey announces $87 million peanut shelling plant coming to Atmore

The facility is expected to ultimately employ 150 workers and attract other businesses to the area.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Tuesday announced that an $87 million peanut shelling plant is to come to the Atmore Industrial Park. The new plant is likely to produce more than a hundred jobs.

Coastal Growers LLC — owned by a cooperative of farmers, most of them from Alabama — plans to build the plant in Atmore, turning the Escambia County city into a hub for peanut shelling in southwest Alabama, according to a press release from Ivey’s office. 

“The Coastal Growers facility in Atmore will become a vital resource for peanut farmers in Alabama and beyond by helping to make their operations more sustainable and profitable,” Ivey said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the impact that this project is going to have for our farmers and for the region.”

Paul Turner, an attorney representing the company, said the average wage in the plant will be more than $17 per hour, and there will be temporary positions added during peak shelling times, according to the release. 

“We are excited to be able to announce this project today, to bring peanut shelling to south Alabama, and to bring economic benefit to the hard-working farmers of our state who so desperately need it,” Turner said in a statement. 

“We also offer our sincere gratitude to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Atmore Mayor Jim Staff and everyone else who made this project possible and brought us to Atmore, including the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Peanut Producers Association, both of which were vital in the project’s development,” Turner continued.  

Jess Nicholas of Centerfire Economic, who serves as executive director of the Escambia County Industrial Development Authority, said he expects the facility to ultimately employ 150 workers and attract other businesses to the area, according to the release.

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“Shelling operations tend to attract other businesses in this sector, and also spur development in infrastructure and other areas. We expect it to have a positive effect on the Port of Mobile as well,” Nicholas said in a statement. “We worked hard to bring Coastal Growers here, and we’re very thankful to Coastal Growers for picking us, and for Governor Ivey for supporting our efforts. We’re on the map now as far as peanut production is concerned.” 

Glenn Spivey, president of Dothan’s Hollis & Spann Inc. and lead on construction of the plant, said it will take about one year to build the 400,000 square foot facility. 

Coastal Growers’ Brad Smith and Joe Parker are two of the driving forces behind the project. Both said the Atmore location is the perfect site for the company. 

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“The peanuts we have in this area are among the highest quality available, yet we really had no infrastructure for shelling in this area,” said Parker, owner and general manager of Summerdale Peanut in Baldwin County.

“While we looked at other possibilities in other states, Atmore really did make the best sense for us in the end, and the state was strongly supportive of our efforts the entire time,” Smith said. “They did a fantastic job of making us feel welcome in Escambia County.”

Mark Kaiser, a Baldwin County farmer, said the new facility will allow farmers to capture more profit from their own crops, giving them more control over their own operations.

“This facility will be owned by the farmers that use it, and they’ll keep those profits themselves,” Kaiser said. “That’s good for both the farmers and for the immediate area, because the money will just keep turning over locally.”

Atmore Mayor Jim Staff in a statement welcomed the new plant, and said in addition to the new jobs, the facility will bring opportunity to the city. 

“It’s what we’re able to do for our farmers and their families who have lived here and worked here for generations. They’ve spent their money in Atmore, and they’re an important part of our community,” Staff said. 

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