In a significant move to address the state’s dwindling labor force participation, Alabama Arise, a leading organization focused on improving the lives of Alabamians affected by poverty, has recently put forward a comprehensive plan. This initiative comes at a crucial juncture, with Alabama witnessing one of the nation’s lowest labor force participation rates — only 57 percent as of September 2023 — and grappling with a severe worker shortage exceeding 100,000 job openings.
Alabama Arise’s proposal is a response to the pressing need for concrete measures to revitalize the state’s workforce. This plan is grounded in extensive research, including surveys from the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, which have identified key barriers to workforce participation: lack of transportation, inadequate pay or work schedules, and health-related issues.
The core of Alabama Arise’s strategy involves a significant investment in public transportation. Recognizing the state’s shortfall in this area — Alabama is one of only three states without state funding for public transit — the proposal advocates for funding the Public Transportation Trust Fund. This move aims to leverage federal funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, addressing a primary barrier to workforce entry: transit access.
In addition to transportation, Alabama Arise has highlighted the need for a reassessment of the state’s economic incentive packages, particularly those aimed at large employers. Despite legislative initiatives like “The Game Plan” and the Enhancing Transparency Act, there is a call for more stringent measures to ensure these incentives effectively translate into high-quality jobs and robust state infrastructure.
Moreover, the expansion of Medicaid forms a critical component of Alabama Arise’s approach. With nearly 300,000 working Alabamians in the health coverage gap, primarily in low-wage industries, the report highlights an urgent need to provide consistent healthcare. Such a measure could mitigate chronic health issues and offer support for those dealing with addiction or mental health challenges, thereby keeping a significant portion of the workforce healthy and active.
Alabama Arise’s recommendations come at a time when state leaders and employers are increasingly concerned about the state’s reputation as “business-friendly” and its ability to attract and retain industry amid workforce shortages. House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, and the House Commission on Labor Shortage have expressed interest in delving deeper into the labor force data, indicating a growing awareness among lawmakers of the interconnectedness of workforce issues with broader societal needs like affordable housing, fair wages, and accessible childcare.
As Alabama heads into the 2024 Legislative Session, the insights and strategies proposed by Alabama Arise present a potential pathway to addressing the workforce challenges. By focusing on enhancing public transportation, ensuring transparency and accountability in economic incentives, and expanding healthcare access, Alabama can take significant steps toward fostering a more robust and thriving workforce, ultimately benefiting the state’s economy and its citizens, according to Alabama Arise’s report.