OP-ED CONTRIBUTED BY ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
What a rollercoaster the last two years have been! The Alabama Department of Labor, along with the rest of the country, has certainly experienced this period of historical significance, and we are hopeful to be finally emerging on brighter days.
I’m proud of this recovery. It took a lot of hard work on the part of many, not the least of whom is our state’s unbelievably amazing workforce, who rose to the challenge to help get things back on track. Gov. Kay Ivey and her administration, including our workforce partner agencies throughout the state, also came together to assist businesses and workers. The entire staff at ADOL also worked harder than ever before to meet an oftentimes unsustainable demand.
In 2021, our unemployment rate dropped to a yearly record low of 3.1%, only two tenths of a percentage point away from our previous record low unemployment rate of 2.9% in June 2019. That’s just amazing. When you remember that our unemployment rate jumped to 13.7% in April of 2020, it’s quite wonderful to see that return to near-record lows in such a short period. Also in April of 2020, Alabama saw the number of people counted as unemployed skyrocket to all-time high of 298,920, but by the same period last year, that number had dropped to 81,599, representing a decrease of 217,321 people. By the end of the year, that number had dropped even more to just under 70,000 people, getting us back in pre-pandemic range.
In fact, Alabama had the lowest unemployment rate in the entire Southeast for the last 15 consecutive months. Our unemployment rate annual average for 2021 ranked 5 in the country at 3.4%. This is not to say we don’t still have work to do; I don’t think I’ll ever say that our work is done. There will always be challenges and we must continue to rise up and meet them. Pre-pandemic, even with record breaking economic conditions, there were labor shortages. Those still exist today. We will continue to educate our workforce, train our workforce, and give opportunities to our workforce. That’s part of ADOL’s mission, and we will constantly strive to meet it.
Partly due to circumstances arising from the pandemic, Alabama also saw major wage gains over the past year. In August of 2021, our average weekly earnings rose to a brand-new record high of $988.89. That’s $138.16 a week HIGHER than in August 2019 — before we’d even heard of COVID-19. Throughout the year, we saw various sectors reach and break wage records, including the construction sector, which saw wages go above $1100 a week, and the manufacturing sector, which saw wages of more than $1200 a week. In traditionally lower wage industries, such as leisure and hospitality, we saw over-the-year increases of nearly $50. To see that kind of increase in such a short time frame is fairly remarkable. It just doesn’t happen.
When you look at the jobs count in Alabama, there’s even more good news. From January 2021 to December 2021, we saw an increase of 61,800 jobs. That means employers added more than 60,000 jobs, despite lingering economic pandemic related concerns. We are working toward reaching our pre-pandemic record high jobs count, and I’m extremely hopeful that we will be able to bypass that record this year.
Many of our metro areas landed in the top #100 nationwide for lowest unemployment rate — Huntsville, Decatur, Auburn, Opelika, Daphne, Fairhope and Foley. There are jobs — good jobs — in Alabama, and employers are willing to offer incentives to attract a quality workforce.
We are in the business of providing a quality workforce. It’s one of Governor Ivey’s major goals. We at ADOL are happy to do our part in helping to achieve that goal. To that end, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to remind everyone of the many free services our Career Centers offer. We’re now up to 55 locations statewide, and we touch each of Alabama’s 67 counties. If you’re a jobseeker, we can help you with your résumé, work on interview skills or get you enrolled in just about any type of educational or vocational training. Want to be a truck driver? A nurse? A welder? We can help with all of that. For employers, we can help you find qualified employees — we prescreen for you, provide you with interview space, and can even help with salary credits. Check us out at www.labor.alabama.gov — we’re here to help.