Connect with us


Labor force participation in Alabama’s Black Belt lags behind state, nation

Looking at the area over time, it’s clear that the Black Belt lags behind the rest of the state and country.

Eddie Burkhalter



(Via University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center)

The labor force participation rate in Alabama’s Black Belt region has been 20 percentage points lower than the rest of the state and the nation for nearly three decades, a report released Monday by The University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center.

That fact didn’t surprise several employment experts in a briefing on the report with reporters Monday, who described work being done to expand existing work training programs and to get the needed participation from local leaders in those communities.

Between April 20 and July 20 of this year, there was an uptick in he numbers of people living in the Black Belt who were participating in the labor force, rising from approximately 273,000 people to just more than 284,000.

The report’s researchers hypothesis that the recent increase may be due to people returning to work to help support their families during the COVID-19 pandemic, but looking at the area over time, it’s clear that the Black Belt lags behind the rest of the state and country. Those who are considered to be active in the labor force are those who are either working or seeking employment.

Between 2010 and 2019 Alabama saw a marginal increase in labor force of about 2 percent, while the country as a whole experienced an increase of approximately 6 percent. Alabama’s Black Belt region, however, saw a decrease of more than 5 percent during that time, according to the report.

In 2010 the Black Belt region had almost 300,000 people in the labor force, which dropped to around 282,000 people, according to the report.


The report, titled “The Black Belt’s Labor Force Participation Lags Behind the Rest of Alabama & the Nation,” is the latest in the center’s eight-part series, “Black Belt 2020.”

“The data is more alarming in some ways, but at the same time it’s not necessarily surprising,” said Dan Hull, director of Career and Technical Education at the Alabama State Department of Education, speaking to reporters during the briefing Monday.

Population growth and school enrollment have continued to drop in the Black Belt region in recent decades, Hull said, but he stressed the importance of broadening awareness among school children of the opportunities that exist for them.

“One of the sayings that we have in K-12 is kids, it’s just really hard for them to be what they can’t see, so we want to provide more opportunities for students to really just understand what’s available and what’s out there,” Hull said.

Public Service Announcement

Hull said officials wants to expand and further develop the workplace learning concept, where students spend half a school day working at a job, and they want to reach down into middle and elementary schools to help those younger children become aware earlier of what opportunities await them.

Jinping Sun,  assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Technology Studies at the University of Alabama, said during the briefing that what stood out to her after reviewing the report was the need to develop high quality leadership in Black Belt schools.

Data shows that school achievement has a clear and direct impact on future employment, Sun said, and it also shows that increasing quality leadership among school principals has a clear impact on student testing scores.

“If we could focus on the development of school leaders, and district leaders, and then in one or two years, our scores would rise by 20 percent to 15 percent,” Sun said. “We would surpass a lot of states.”

Donny Jones, vice president of the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce and executive director of West Alabama Works, said now is the time to make systemic changes in the Black Belt.

“If we ever had a perfect moment to really come together and make transitional changes in our education system, in our workforce system and the modeling that we actually do, I think now’s the time,” Jones said.

Jones said they’re now in the second year of the Educator Workforce Academy, which is a yearlong program for West Alabama teachers that trains them on workforce development.

“What we’re finding out is many of our educators have said to us, we had no idea that these opportunities are in our own community for young people, and didn’t really understand what they could do to support the workforce and also the opportunities for their children,” Jones said.

Young people are graduating school and leaving the Black Belt for jobs elsewhere, Jones said, which makes programs like the Educator Workforce Academy so important. There are companies in the Black Belt who need workers but are finding them from outside those areas, while young people are leaving for jobs elsewhere, he said, adding that there needs to be a comprehensive plan.

“We need to take these comprehensive plans that we have been talking about for years, and actually putting them into actionable programs that actually can make a systemic change,” Jones said. “And it’s got to go all the way down to Pre-K, from Pre-K all the way up to PhD. we’ve got to create those education programs, but also pipelining all of the workforce programs that we have into actual jobs.”

Asked by APR whether anyone is actively working on such a comprehensive plan for the Black Belt, or whom that person or group might be, if not, it was unclear Monday.

Stephen Katsinas, director of the University of Alabama’s Education Policy Center, said it’s critical that we first define exactly what is the Black Belt so that it can be measured. Over the years, various counties have been added, then taken away, from the generally used makeup of Black Belt counties.

“The fact that we don’t even have a definition of the Black Belt says a lot about the commitment that we’ve made to it,” Katsinas said.

Last week the Education Policy Center released its report titled “Persistent Unemployment in the Black Belt.” Visit the center’s website here to learn more about past reports.

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



State unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent last month

Alabama’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.7 in September to 5.8 percent in October.

Micah Danney




Alabama’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.7 in September to 5.8 percent in October, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. October’s seasonally adjusted rate represents 130,329 unemployed persons, down from 153,338 in September. That compares to 61,210 in October 2019.

“We’re glad to see a drop of almost an entire percentage point in our unemployment rate this month,” said ADOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington. “We will continue to see fluctuations in these economic indicators as pandemic concerns remain, but this month showed growth in both the number of jobs we are supporting and the number of people who are working.”

The number of people counted as employed in October was 2,121,505, up from 2,119,297 in September, but down from the 2,186,771 measured in October 2019.

There were 9,262 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, up from 8,764 the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Nov. 8 and Nov. 14, there were 3,001, or 32 percent, that were related to COVID-19, down from 38 percent the previous week.

Continue Reading


Governor announces $200 million “Revive Plus” small business grant program

Revive Plus is the second wave of funding for organizations with 50 or fewer employees and will award grants of up to $20,000 for expenses.





Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (VIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday announced Revive Plus, a $200 million grant program to support small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations in Alabama that have been impacted by COVID-19. Revive Plus is the second wave of funding for these organizations with 50 or fewer employees and will award grants of up to $20,000 for expenses they have incurred due to operational interruptions caused by the pandemic and related business closures.

“As the state has rolled out over $1 billion of the CARES Act monies to the individuals and businesses affected by COVID-19, it became evident the group most overwhelmingly hurt during the pandemic were the small ‘mom and pop’ shops,” Ivey said. “A second round of assistance through Revive Plus will ensure that the small business owners who have borne the brunt of the downed economy can be made as whole as possible. As we head into the holiday season, my hope is that this will be welcome news for our businesses and help ease their burdens from what has been a very hard year.”

Entities may receive up to $20,000 to reimburse qualifying expenses if they have not received federal assistance for the corresponding item they are claiming with the state of Alabama. The Revive Plus grant is in addition to any state of Alabama Coronavirus Relief Fund grant previously received, including the Revive Alabama Small Business, Non-Profit, Faith-Based, and Health Care Provider grants. There is no set cap on the number of entities that may be awarded a Revive Plus Grant. Grants will be awarded to qualifying applicants on a first-come, first-served basis until the funds are exhausted.

“The Revive Plus program is much needed in our small business economy,” said Senate General Fund Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Atmore. “I commend Governor Ivey for taking this action, recapturing unspent dollars and using a proven program to bring economic relief to our small business owners.”

Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate the coronavirus pandemic. Alabama Act 2020-199 initially designated up to $300 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund for individuals, businesses, non-profit and faith-based organizations directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. After the initial $100 million for small business that was reimbursed starting in July 2020, legislative leadership approved a second round of $200 million from allocations made to reimburse state government and from other grant programs that have ended with the full allocation unspent.

“This second round of funding for Alabama entities will provide much needed resources for our state’s economy,” said Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. “I appreciate the governor and the Finance Department’s work to ensure we utilize these funds to the benefit of our citizens.”


Entities may access grant information and the grant application through the Coronavirus Relief Fund website. The application period for the Revive Plus Grant Program will open at noon, Nov. 23, 2020 and run through noon, Dec. 4, 2020.

“This is welcome news for small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations that are continuing to feel the adverse effects of the Covid-19 virus,” said House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. “Time is of the essence and I urge all qualified entities to apply as soon as possible beginning Monday, November 23rd.”

A coalition of the Business Council of Alabama, the National Federation of Independent Business of Alabama (NFIB Alabama) and the Alabama Restaurant Association worked closely with the governor’s office to revisit the grant program after the initial round of Revive Alabama reached the $100 million cap.

“Businesses throughout the state are working diligently to keep their employees and customers safe, all while ensuring commerce throughout Alabama continues to move,” said Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Britt. “Revive Plus will be essential in giving Alabama businesses access to the necessary and needed funding to keep their doors open and keep hard working Alabamians employed. Our broad coalition of businesses, associations and chambers commend Governor Ivey and her administration for putting these critical funds into the hands of businesses who need it most.”

Public Service Announcement

Qualifying entities must have been in business March 1, 2020, are currently in business and have a valid W-9 to apply for a Revive Plus Grant.

Continue Reading


Applications open the Livestock Auction Market Direct Payment Program, Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program

Each program will assist Alabama’s agriculture with costs associated with disruptions experienced due to COVID-19.

Brandon Moseley




Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate announced that both the Livestock Market Direct Payment Program and the Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program applications are open.

The applications are available at or The deadline to submit applications is Dec. 1, 2020. Each program will assist Alabama’s agriculture with costs associated with disruptions experienced due to COVID-19.

Pate and agricultural stakeholders developed a broad-based relief plan to support agribusiness in the state of Alabama, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus crisis and the resulting supply chain interruptions.

In August, Gov. Kay Ivey announced that $26 million of CARES Act Funds could be used to assist Alabama agriculture impacted by COVID-19. These funds were used to establish the Alabama Agricultural Stabilization Program (AASP).

Pate said on Monday that the Livestock Market Direct Payment Program is a $500,000 program to provide direct payments to stockyards affected by the crisis. Payments cannot exceed $25,000. Only licensed Alabama cattle auction markets are eligible.

Pate said the Poultry Processor Reimbursement Program is a $1.2 million program to reimburse Alabama poultry processing facilities for purchases of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), disinfectants, workstation dividers and COVID-19 testing kits to protect their employees from COVID-19.


Reimbursements for these expenses would be capped at a maximum of $40,000 per facility. Additional eligibility requirements will be posted at or

The state has until the end of the year to spend nearly $1 billion in CARES Act money or it goes back to the federal government.

Continue Reading


Sewell’s annual job fair will be virtual this year

Job seekers will have the opportunity to connect with employers from 10 different industries.

Brandon Moseley




Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s annual job fair is open for registration. This year, the job fair will be virtual, hosted via Zoom.

Sewell announced the opening of registration for Alabama’s 7th District 9th Annual Job Fair. Job Fair 2020 will be a two-day event held virtually on Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 18 and 19, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. central time.

Job seekers will have the opportunity to connect with employers from 10 different industries. Registration is required via Eventbrite. Participation in the job fair is free and open to the public.

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I know so many jobs have been lost, and now more than ever our annual Job Fair is needed,” Sewell said. “For the past 8 years, the Job Fair has been a space for job seekers in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District to connect directly with employers. We are very excited to continue our tradition with a robust 2020 virtual program! Over the course of two days, job seekers can learn about jobs available right NOW in Alabama.”

This year’s virtual event will feature employers from more than 10 types of industries, including automotive, restaurant and food management, transportation and construction, hospitality and retail, health services, utilities and telecommunications, manufacturing and production, staffing agencies, government agencies and law enforcement.

Sewell said she made a commitment to work to improve the lives of people in the 7th Congressional District when she was elected. Getting people jobs and growing the economy of the district has been the goal of the job fair.


Sewell said that when she was elected, the counties of the district had some of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Coming out of the Great Recession, the district had an unemployment rate about 14 percent.

That rate is now down to 6 percent — still double the national average but a tremendous improvement for the people in the district. Then COVID hit.

Sewell said that the district, like the rest of the country, was hard hit by the coronavirus crisis and many jobs, particularly in the hospitality sector, were lost.

Sewell said that they don’t have as many employers participating in this year’s job fair as in some in the past but it is “still a great opportunity.”

Public Service Announcement

“We have a pretty good track record,” Sewell said. According to surveys, 25 to 30 percent of participants in past job fairs found jobs through the Job Fair, Sewell’s office said. Since that is dependent on participants responding to the surveys, they suspect the number is higher.

“We do have very strong participation from all the largest employers in the state,” Sewell said. There are opportunities there for people with a variety of skill sets.

Sewell said that she is very proud of all of the investments that have been made by manufacturers in the 7th Congressional District and cited the expansions at Hyundai and Golden Dragon in Wilcox County.

“We have a very good track record,” Sewell said of past job fairs. “Everywhere I go I meet people who tell me how their lives changed because of our job fairs.”

On Nov. 3, Sewell was elected to her sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Continue Reading