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Economy

Newly published studies shine light on child poverty and social injustice

Bill Britt

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Two recently released studies show Alabama is sixth highest in child poverty and ranks forty-ninth in social justice.

Nearly 13 million children in the United States live in families with incomes below the federal poverty line. The Census Bureau poverty threshold in 2018, for a family of three with one child under 18 years old, was $20,212.

A study by 24/7 Wall St., which reviewed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, found that Alabama is home to 255,186 children living in poverty.

In November, the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans released its JustSouth Index, which found that Alabama ranks forty-ninth in social justice.

Even with record unemployment, poverty and social inequities plague large portions of the state’s inhabitants.

According to 24/7 Wall St.’s analysis of Alabama:

Children in poverty: 255,186 (16th most)

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Child poverty rate: 23.8 percent (6th highest)

State poverty rate: 16.8 percent (7th highest)

Families with incomes below $10,000/year: 5.1 percent (6th highest)

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Adult achievement is related to childhood poverty, according to research by Urban.org. “Children who are poor are less likely to achieve important adult milestones, such as graduating from high school and enrolling in and completing college than children who are never poor. For example, although more than 9 in 10 never-poor children (92.7 percent) complete high school, only 3 in 4 ever-poor children (77.9 percent) do so.”

The JustSouth Index produced by the Jesuit Social Research Institute concluded that Alabama ranked:

44 in Poverty

50 in Racial Disparity

45 in Immigrant Exclusion

With an overall social justice rating of 49.

Social justice according to the JustSouth Index is defined by Catholic social teaching, which holds, “Justice…is not a simple human convention, because as Saint John Paul II stated, ‘what is ‘just’ is not first determined by the law, but by the profound identity of the human being.” It further states, “Every person’s right to human dignity is derived from their creation in the image of God; therefore, social, political, and economic aspects of society must serve to protect and promote the inherent dignity of individuals.”

The social justice index measures poverty, racial disparity and immigrant exclusion; the study also found that Alabama is:

First in the largest white-minority wage gap in the U.S.

Third in the highest percentage of foreign-born disconnected youth in the U.S.

The fifth largest gap in health insurance coverage between native and foreign-born residents in the U.S and fifth lowest average income among low-income households.

“Our goal is to help citizens and policy-makers, business and labor, church and community leaders— all of us—know more about our social realities and the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors,” writes Fr. Fred Kammer in his introduction to the JustSouth Index. “With enhanced awareness should come action to promote the common good in our communities, states, and nation.”

According to the study, “A just society is one that fosters the common good,” and the “JustSouth Index is part of a growing movement among social scientists to better understand and illustrate complex human and societal challenges through the analysis of concrete indicators.”

The Gulf South states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas for the third consecutive year rank at the bottom of the Index.

The Index focuses on two major public policies: Minimum wage and Medicaid expansion, which the study concluded has a “real impact on the economic and social conditions of the states and their citizens.”

Hawaii came in first in the Index, followed in the top 10 by Vermont, New Hampshire, Montana, Virginia, Washington, Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts and Maryland.

Of the ten highest-ranked states overall, all expanded Medicaid, also among the top ten states, only two had a $7.25 minimum wage–the federally established floor. Seven of the top ten had a minimum wage of $9 or more.

In contrast, the six states in the bottom ten of the Index didn’t expand Medicaid or raised the minimum wage above $7.50/hour; this includes Alabama, Texas and Mississippi.

In the Tenth Anniversary Edition of Economic Justice for All the National Conference of Catholic Bishops stated, “We can best measure our life together by how the poor and the vulnerable are treated.”

Both studies paint a bleak reality for many living in Alabama; lawmakers who ignore these hard facts condemn the state to remain near or at the bottom in every measurable metric of success.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Economy

Alabama unemployment rate drops more than 2 points to 5.6 percent

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 5.6 percent in August, down from 7.9 percent in July, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

The figure represents 127,186 unemployed people, compared to 176,556 in July. It compares to an August 2019 rate of 2.8 percent, or 62,149 unemployed people.

“August showed a larger drop in the unemployment rate than we’ve seen for a few months,” said Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We are continuing to see our initial claims drop, staying under 10,000 for the past several weeks. We regained another 22,200 jobs this month but are still down more than 86,000 from this time last year.”

Washington said that the number of people who are working or actively looking for work is at its highest level ever, which he described as a sign that people are confident that there are jobs to be found. 

Gov. Kay Ivey said the numbers are good news for Alabama. 

“We have worked extremely hard to open Alabama’s businesses safely, and to put our hard-working families back to work,” Ivey said in a statement. “We know that challenges remain, and we will endeavor to meet them so that we can get back to our previous, pre-pandemic record-setting employment numbers.”

All the state’s counties and metro areas experienced a decrease in unemployment rates from July to August. The most gains were seen in the government sector, the professional and business services sector and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

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Counties with the lowest unemployment rates were:

  • Clay County – 3.4 percent
  • Randolph, Franklin, Marshall, Cullman, Cleburne and Cherokee Counties – 3.6 percent
  • Blount County – 3.7 percent

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were:

  • Wilcox County – 14.8 percent
  • Lowndes County – 13.8 percent
  • Greene County – 10.9 percent

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates are:

  • Vestavia Hills – 3 percent
  • Homewood  – 3.2 percent
  • Madison – 3.3 percent

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates are:

  • Prichard – 15.4 percent
  • Selma – 12.9 percent
  • Bessemer – 10.7 percent

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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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