Policies to advance racial, gender equity key to Alabama workforce’s COVID-19 recovery, new Alabama Arise report shows

State of Working Alabama logo

Alabama should rebuild from the COVID-19 recession by lifting policy barriers to economic opportunity and charting a path toward a more equitable and inclusive future, according to The State of Working Alabama 2021, a new report that Alabama Arise released Monday.

Medicaid expansion and a state law guaranteeing paid sick leave both would help strengthen Alabama’s workforce, the report says. Other policy recommendations include higher funding for nutrition and housing assistance and improvements to the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) system.

The Alabama Legislature moved quickly to pass “pro-business” bills in the opening days of the 2021 regular session. These measures included a new law providing a broad range of civil immunity against claims related to coronavirus exposure. As lawmakers return to Montgomery after a weeklong break, their policymaking focus should shift toward addressing their constituents’ urgent needs during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said.

“Legislators spent the first two weeks of this session protecting the interests of corporations,” Hyden said. “They should spend the rest of the session protecting the interests of the people of Alabama. And Arise’s State of Working Alabama report provides a blueprint for how to do just that.”

COVID-19’s toll has fallen heavily on women, Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians

Arise’s seven-section report examines economic challenges – both old and new – that Alabamians have faced over the last year. Health coverage, housing, hunger, wages and working conditions for front-line workers are among the topics covered in The State of Working Alabama 2021. The report also highlights how the pandemic has exacerbated preexisting racial, gender and regional disparities in our state.

COVID-19 job losses hit Black workers nearly twice as hard as other Alabamians. Black workers made up 25% of Alabama's workforce in 2020 but 47% of Alabama's unemployment insurance claimants in 2020.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alabama in March 2020, it didn’t just cause massive human suffering and economic disruption,” the Arise report says. “It also revealed suffering and disruption that have long existed and that policymakers have long neglected – or even perpetuated.”

Past policy decisions left Alabama inadequately prepared to respond to the pandemic, the report finds. They also created and maintained racial and gender disparities that prevent our state from reaching its full potential. Among the report’s major findings:

  • Alabama’s “essential workers,” hailed as pandemic heroes, often lack the basic protections of a living wage, health insurance, paid sick leave and family medical leave.
  • COVID-19 has caused disproportionate unemployment for Black people and women in Alabama. Economically disadvantaged counties in the Black Belt and other parts of Alabama also have lagged behind in unemployment recovery.
  • Before the pandemic, 62.2% of Alabama’s white workers had health insurance through their jobs. The same was true for only 46.4% of Black workers and just 35.5% of Hispanic/Latinx workers. The pandemic has widened those racial/ethnic disparities in health coverage.
  • Hunger has been widespread in Alabama’s communities of color during the COVID-19 recession. Early in the pandemic, nearly 21% of Black residents and 19% of Hispanic/Latinx residents said they didn’t have enough food.
  • Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians are at higher risk of eviction for inability to pay rent. Even basic apartments are out of financial reach for low-wage workers everywhere in Alabama.

Policies to increase equity, expand economic opportunity for working Alabamians

Alabama’s policy legacy has exacerbated the damage that COVID-19 has wreaked on working people across the state, the report finds. The State of Working Alabama 2021 outlines a policy agenda to repair that damage and promote broadly shared prosperity. Among the report’s key recommendations:

  • Expand Medicaid to ensure more than 300,000 Alabamians with low incomes can afford treatment for COVID-19 and other health problems.
  • Guarantee permanent paid sick leave for all working Alabamians, so that no one has to choose between earning a paycheck and going to work sick.
  • Roll back the 2019 cuts to Alabama’s UI benefits and create a modernized claims system capable of handling future crises.
  • Provide state support for the Alabama Housing Trust Fund and abandon efforts to impose harmful limits on safety net programs.
  • Expand high-speed, affordable broadband technology, targeting rural and low-income communities and explicitly addressing racial equity in broadband access.

Hispanic and Black Alabamians are more likely to lack health coverage. 32.8% of Hispanic/Latinx residents were uninsured in the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic, and 20.7% were uninsured in the late summer/fall stage. The corresponding rates for Black residents were 17.8% and 13.5%. For white residents, the rates were 11.7% and 11.5%.

“The economic, racial and gender inequities in Alabama are preventable and reversible,” Alabama Arise policy director Jim Carnes said. “These disparities are the direct result of bad policy choices in the past. By making better choices now and in the future, we can chart a path toward a more equitable economy. The power to build a stronger, more inclusive Alabama is in the hands of our lawmakers – and all of us.”

About The State of Working Alabama 2021

Click here to read the executive summary of The State of Working Alabama 2021. Links to each of the report’s seven sections are available at the bottom of the page. You also can jump directly to a section using the links below.

  1. Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good
  2. Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy
  3. Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market
  4. Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic
  5. Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19
  6. The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic
  7. No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19

The State of Working Alabama 2021

State of Working Alabama logo next to a portrait of a young woman wearing a face mask and protective workwear in a warehouse

Introduction

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alabama in March 2020, it didn’t just cause massive human suffering and economic disruption. It also revealed suffering and disruption that have long existed and that policymakers have long neglected – or even perpetuated.

COVID-19 has laid bare deep racial inequities in Alabama’s economy and social system that have left our state unprepared to meet the needs of its people in this disaster. As the workers predominantly on the front lines, women and people of color bore the brunt of the economic meltdown. They also simultaneously have suffered greater exposure to the virus that caused it.

Alabama has a weak safety net for struggling families and an approach to economic growth that all too often leaves workers underprotected and underpaid. This ongoing policy legacy has exacerbated the damage that the virus has wreaked on the state’s working people.

In The State of Working Alabama 2021, Alabama Arise explores COVID-19’s significant and negative impacts on the state’s workforce. We also look ahead to outline a state and federal policy agenda for repairing the damage – not by repeating the policy mistakes of the past, but by charting a new path toward a more equitable economy marked by broadly shared prosperity.

Report navigation

You can read all seven sections of the report by clicking on the corresponding section’s icon at the bottom of this page. The executive summary of each section and of some of the report’s key policy recommendations is below, as are the report acknowledgments.

You can click any image in this report to enlarge it. To download a printable version of the executive summary, click here. To read our news release on the report, click here.

COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy

COVID-19 struck Alabama’s families and communities hard, and the toll has been especially high for Alabamians of color. The virus and the shutdown exacerbated massive underlying disparities in health care, economic security and access to essential resources that policymakers have long ignored. And they revealed how our neglect of the common good – through low wages for average working people, low taxes for rich people and racially discriminatory policies for our entire state – has left many Alabamians unable to weather a crisis and hindered the entire state’s ability to rebound.

  • The “essential workers” hailed as pandemic heroes often lack the basic protections of a living wage, health insurance, paid sick leave and family medical leave.
  • Alabama’s fundamental state policies have been unequal by design, including its explicitly racist 1901 constitution. Right-to-work laws, preemption and other measures have blocked efforts to protect and support working families.
  • Working Alabamians without health coverage are at even greater risk during the pandemic due to extension of broad liability protection to corporations and other entities for damages related to COVID-19.

Labor market

The COVID-19 recession hit vulnerable Alabama workers hard and fast, disproportionately affecting women and workers of color.

Rural Black Belt counties were slower to recover from peak unemployment. The percentage of peak unemployment in Black Belt counties (excluding Montgomery) did not return to the statewide average until October.

  • Alabamians working in already low-wage industries suffered immediate and severe job losses, which fell hardest on women and people of color. By December 2020 – nine months into the pandemic – Alabama still had a net loss of 35,400 jobs, a 1.7% decline from pre-pandemic levels. The hardest hit industry was leisure and hospitality, including entertainment and food service establishments where workers were already struggling.
  • Unemployment insurance (UI), designed for just such a moment, was inadequate and insufficient to meet working people’s needs because of Alabama’s policy choices. In 2019, the state cut compensable weeks of UI and tied benefit extensions to longer-term statewide unemployment rates. This framework is wholly unsuited to catastrophe response.
  • COVID-19 has caused disproportionate unemployment for Black people and women. Economically disadvantaged counties in the Black Belt and other parts of Alabama also have lagged behind in unemployment recovery.
  • Alabama’s lack of investment in updated claim processing systems has caused harmful lags in paying out UI claims. The state’s failure to modernize claim processing damages the well-being of people who drive the economy. Modernization would be quick, efficient and helpful to Alabamians.
  • Alabama’s failure to invest in rural broadband made it even more difficult for people in large swaths of the state to work or attend school remotely. This “digital divide” is depriving many Alabamians of opportunities to learn and earn.

COVID-19 job losses hit Black workers nearly twice as hard as other Alabamians. Black workers made up 25% of Alabama's workforce in 2020 but 47% of Alabama's unemployment insurance claimants in 2020.

Recommendations

  • Establish a state minimum wage significantly higher than the current federal minimum wage. The pandemic recession’s impacts have fallen hardest on people who were already struggling to make ends meet.
  • Roll back the harmful 2019 cuts to UI benefits. Those changes reflected a shortsighted approach to UI and demonstrated counterproductive hostility to working people who have lost their jobs.
  • Invest in support structures to allow communities that are at an economic disadvantage to participate fully in the workforce.
  • Create a reliable, modernized claims system capable of handling a crisis with claims significantly exceeding peak UI claims resulting from the pandemic.
  • Expand high-speed, affordable broadband technology, targeting rural and low-income communities and explicitly addressing racial equity in broadband access.

Front-line workers 

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alabamians have come to recognize a new category of “heroes.” Front-line workers in grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and other settings perform necessary tasks to keep our communities functioning during the public health emergency.

  • Front-line workers, who face greater exposure to COVID-19 than the general population, are disproportionately women and people of color. Because of barriers to health care, Black and Hispanic/Latinx workers also are more likely to have underlying conditions that worsen COVID-19 outcomes. State and national policy failures on the pandemic response, especially inadequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), are more likely to hit front-line workers the hardest.
  • Thousands of working Alabamians were left out of paid sick days protections. Between half and three-quarters of all Alabamians were left out of the paid sick days protections in the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This omission places entire workplaces at risk of exposure to the virus.

Recommendations

  • Implement hazard pay for front-line workers during the pandemic.
  • Guarantee permanent paid sick leave for all working Alabamians, regardless of employer size, so that no one has to choose between earning a paycheck and going to work sick.
  • Expand Medicaid so front-line workers have affordable, timely access to treatment for health risks that worsen COVID-19 outcomes.

Health care

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slammed all segments of our economy and society in one way or another, health care is where most of these effects converge.

  • Alabama had the 11th highest COVID-19 death rate among states in mid-February 2021. That means a higher share of Alabamians have died from the virus than in most other parts of the country. By mid-February, Alabama’s COVID-19 deaths in less than a year had surpassed 9,200, far more than the number of Alabamians who died in World War II and all subsequent wars (8,215).
  • COVID-19 has exposed a shameful legacy of unequal access to health care. In the early days of the pandemic, Black Alabamians accounted for as many as 55.2% of Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths, more than double their 26.8% share of the population.
  • The pandemic widened racial/ethnic disparities in health coverage. Before the pandemic, 62.2% of Alabama’s white workers had health insurance through their jobs. The same was true for only 46.4% of Black workers and just 35.5% of Hispanic/Latinx workers. Early in the COVID-19 shutdown, Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians reported lack of insurance at nearly three times the rate of white residents.
  • COVID-19’s disparate impact on communities of color has opened a new conversation about health equity. A smart recovery will take a broader approach to building a healthy workforce by adopting policies that address food security, adequate housing and other social determinants of health.

Hispanic and Black Alabamians are more likely to lack health coverage. 32.8% of Hispanic/Latinx residents were uninsured in the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic, and 20.7% were uninsured in the late summer/fall stage. The corresponding rates for Black residents were 17.8% and 13.5%. For white residents, the rates were 11.7% and 11.5%.

Recommendations

  • Expand Medicaid to cover more than 300,000 Alabama adults with low incomes. This health coverage expansion would facilitate COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination; allow working people to stay healthier and more productive; and strengthen Alabama’s health care system, especially rural hospitals. The Legislature’s eagerness to provide businesses with immunity against COVID-19 liability claims only makes the need for worker protections like health coverage more urgent.
  • Make reducing health disparities a state priority. Alabama should adopt a rigorous program of data collection across state agencies to identify disparities in health outcomes related to race/ethnicity, income and geography. This effort should engage research universities and state health agencies in developing and implementing a strategic plan to reduce targeted health disparities and give all Alabamians a chance to thrive.

Hunger

Job and income losses during the pandemic have contributed to widespread hunger in Alabama.

  • Too many people struggled to keep food on the table during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic (April through July 2020), 12% of all Alabama families and 13% of Alabama families with children either sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat.
  • Hunger was much more widespread in communities of color. Nearly 21% of Black residents and 19% of Hispanic/Latinx residents said they didn’t have enough food.
  • Proven safety net programs played a critical role in alleviating hunger. Food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was key to helping hundreds of thousands of Alabamians keep food on the table during this recession. And emergency food and child nutrition services eased hardship among Alabama’s children as schools closed or went virtual.

Recommendations

  • Alabama lawmakers should abandon efforts to slash the state’s safety net. Past proposals to restrict SNAP and other safety net programs would have made the recent hunger and hardship in Alabama even more dire.
  • Congress should move quickly to institutionalize recently increased UI, child nutrition and SNAP assistance. Hunger has grown during the pandemic, reaching crisis proportions. Boosts to UI, child nutrition and SNAP benefits have been essential tools to help struggling Alabamians meet their basic needs.
  • Congress should provide additional cash assistance, similar to the earlier relief payments, targeted specifically to families with low incomes. Targeted relief should include a fully refundable Child Tax Credit and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Relief payments were a significant source of cash for food and other basic needs during early stages of the recession. And federal assistance will remain important as struggling Alabamians rebuild in the aftermath of the COVID-19 recession.

Housing

Thousands of Alabamians face potential eviction and homelessness because of inadequate response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated recession.

  • Alabamians can’t afford adequate housing. Many Alabamians in the workforce face housing insecurity because low wages burden renters heavily. Even basic apartments are out of reach for low-wage workers everywhere in the state.
  • COVID-19 has caused increased housing insecurity. Alabamians face high risk of eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely because of insufficient state-level protections.
  • Housing insecurity is significantly racially disparate. Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians face far higher risk of eviction for inability to pay rent. Long-standing inequities in the state’s economic structure have caused Black and Hispanic/Latinx communities to have fewer resources in reserve for weathering hard times.

Recommendations

  • Fund the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF). Lawmakers in 2012 created the AHTF as a vehicle to promote safe, affordable homes for people with extremely low incomes. A small increase in the recording fee for mortgages could boost the AHTF and significantly increase housing availability. This would facilitate more construction of affordable homes in the Black Belt and other rural areas.
  • Renew the state moratorium on evictions. Job losses amid the pandemic recession are causing evictions that otherwise would not have happened. The current limited federal moratorium fails to cover all Alabamians and requires administrative hurdles that leave holes in the system. By restricting evictions during the pandemic to reasons directly related to public safety, the governor could protect thousands of Alabamians from higher risk of COVID-19 transmission and from devastating long-term economic consequences.

Acknowledgments

This Alabama Arise report was made possible by a generous grant from EARN in the South. The findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of Arise and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of EARN in the South.

The report’s authors are Arise policy director Jim Carnes, policy analysts Carol Gundlach and Dev Wakeley, visiting fellow Allan Freyer and intern Resha Swanson. Arise communications director Chris Sanders was the report’s primary editor. Arise communications associate Matt Okarmus designed the charts and graphs and provided online design for the report. Bixler Creative designed the report logo and provided print design for the executive summary. Other report editors and contributors included Arise executive director Robyn Hyden and organizer Mike Nicholson.

Special thanks to Adelante Alabama Worker Center for producing a companion report to The State of Working Alabama 2021 and to Marie-Pier Frigon at New Mexico Voices for Children for providing guidance on chart and graph design.


The State of Working Alabama 2021

Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)
Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 1 – Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good

State of Working Alabama logo

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Alabama in March 2020, it didn’t just cause massive human suffering and economic disruption. It also revealed suffering and disruption that have long existed and that policymakers have long neglected – or even perpetuated.

COVID-19 has laid bare deep racial and gender inequities in Alabama’s economy and social system that have left our state unprepared to meet the needs of its people in this disaster. As the workers predominantly on the front lines, women and people of color bore the brunt of the economic meltdown. They also simultaneously have suffered greater exposure to the virus that caused it.

Alabama has a weak safety net for struggling families and an approach to economic growth that all too often leaves workers underprotected and underpaid. This ongoing policy legacy has exacerbated the damage that the virus has wreaked on the state’s working people.

In The State of Working Alabama 2021, Alabama Arise explores COVID-19’s significant and negative impacts on the state’s workforce. We also look ahead to outline a state and federal policy agenda for repairing the damage – not by repeating the policy mistakes of the past, but by charting a new path toward a more equitable economy marked by broadly shared prosperity.

The lessons of COVID-19

This report makes the case that economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession requires more than restoring the former status quo. All Alabamians are eager to feel connected, productive and at ease again. But for many individuals and families across the state, disruptions and barriers to a decent, sufficient – “normal” – quality of life are nothing new.

A smart plan for restoring and expanding Alabama’s economy will take long-standing inequities explicitly into account to elevate the common good. That plan will require accommodations, supports, policies of inclusion and other interventions to create new opportunities for participation and empowerment. The result will be a post-pandemic Alabama that’s more vibrant, resourceful and equitable than the state we had before.

The spike from record low unemployment to record high in a few weeks in spring 2020 left Alabama families reeling. Many found themselves in desperate situations they never envisioned. Many others, however, have long experienced marginalization and exclusion from the workforce, or have worked for generations at low wages without benefits.

Before COVID-19, Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians had significantly higher rates of poverty than white Alabamians.[1] Communities of color also experienced higher rates of medical debt in collections and defaulted student loan debt.[2] Accumulated debt from COVID-19 likely will increase this already alarming disparity. A smart recovery plan should protect workers against unreasonable debt, eviction, predatory lending and other financial burdens that will slow their ability to return to or gain economic independence.

While the COVID-19 recession has caused unprecedented layoffs, it also has highlighted the critical role of service workers in keeping our communities going. Our state leaders hail these front-line and essential workers as heroes – but often in name only, denying them the respect of decent wages and strong protections.

Shortcomings on paid leave, wages, health coverage

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March 2020 required many businesses to offer sick leave with full or partial pay. But this benefit expired Dec. 31, and broad exemptions left thousands of Alabama workers unprotected.

Like our Deep South neighbors, Alabama has resisted implementing mandatory paid sick leave or family medical leave for private-sector workers. Lack of paid sick leave gives underpaid working people in particular a stark choice: Continue to work while sick, or stay home and lose pay – or even lose their jobs.

Efforts to strengthen the minimum wage have begun to gain traction at last in the Deep South. Florida voters in November 2020 approved a gradual minimum wage increase,[3] the first such step in a state neighboring Alabama.

Prior to COVID-19, Alabama’s refusal to extend health coverage to adults with low incomes had already left hundreds of thousands of Alabamians in the coverage gap. Most of them are working people. They also include family caregivers, students, people awaiting disability determinations and others who have no affordable coverage option.[4]

The COVID-19 recession has only widened this coverage gap and the suffering associated with it. People without health insurance often struggle to work while dealing with health problems that sap their productivity, add stress to their households and worsen without timely care.

The changing nature of workplaces

For another range of workers and employers, the recession has transformed assumptions about how workplaces operate and how workers function. It also has raised questions about how work and family life interact and highlighted what employers are capable of doing to accommodate workers’ needs. Many changes are adaptations that people with disabilities, child care responsibilities, inadequate transportation and other challenges have sought for decades.

The surge in telecommuting is both an impressive achievement and a cautionary tale. Remote working and learning have helped many families keep their lives moving forward during the pandemic. But for households lacking high-speed broadband service, working from home doesn’t work, and children’s progress in school has stalled.[5]

Recent federal broadband grants can go a long way toward bridging Alabama’s “digital divide” if administered under strict equity guidelines and community oversight.[6] Technology access aside, many jobs are impossible to perform remotely, and this limitation falls disproportionately on low-wage workers.

Innovative public programs kept families fed

The COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying recession have highlighted the critical role of the safety net during a crisis. Families who never before had to seek assistance suddenly found themselves unable to afford the basics of life – food, shelter, utilities, health care – and turned to public assistance for the first time.

Enrollment for food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rose 12% between February 2020 and October 2020.[7] Federal waivers allowed the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to cut red tape and increase assistance for most SNAP participants. State and county SNAP workers worked nights and weekends to process more than 83,000 new SNAP applications.[8]

DHR and the state Department of Education also partnered to create – in just weeks – an entirely new program, called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT), that replaced school meals lost when schools closed.[9] By the end of the 2019-20 school year, P-EBT had distributed at least $132 million in food assistance to more than 420,000 Alabama children.[10]

Meanwhile, workers in school districts and emergency food closets across the state risked their own health to distribute federally funded school meals and food boxes to hungry families waiting in lines that ran for blocks. Federal Emergency Solutions Grants will help community-based agencies prevent an eviction epidemic if a federal moratorium ends in 2021.[11]

Efforts to cut the safety net are cruel and shortsighted

For the past five years, the Alabama Legislature has attempted to cut and restrict critical safety net programs. Fortunately, those efforts largely have failed because of hard work by advocates and directly affected Alabamians. The one safety net restriction that lawmakers approved – reducing the time workers could receive unemployment insurance (UI) benefits – was effectively reversed briefly when the state Department of Labor implemented federal extended benefits (EB) that were available because Alabama’s reported unemployment rate had exceeded 5.9%. But this reversal of the state’s policy failure was only temporary. The EB program has stopped paying benefits as of Oct. 3, 2020.[12]

Had proponents of safety net cuts been more successful, critical programs like Medicaid, SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) might have not been available to meet Alabamians’ most basic needs today. Our leaders should remember this moment and the importance of the safety net as they prepare for future emergencies.

How we should respond now

Alabama is a torchbearer to the nation for civil and human rights achievements. We boast a world-class medical research center and regional hubs of education, business, manufacturing and finance. Our rich cultural legacy has produced artists of world renown.

But these proud assets stand against a backdrop of low wages, lingering rural and urban poverty, and racial injustice rooted in slavery and violent oppression. These structural failures have created unequal access to basic necessities, education and economic opportunity; wide health disparities; and other violations of the common good.

The COVID-19 crisis has created new challenges for our state and worsened persistent ones. If there is a bright spot to be found, it is in the light the pandemic has shined on these old problems and on new ways we can and must address them. We call on our leaders to envision a new Alabama beyond the pandemic horizon, where all residents can share in the best the state has to offer.

In focus

The Household Pulse Survey: An important new source of data on the pandemic’s impact on Alabamians

Shortly after the pandemic began, the U.S. Census Bureau launched the Household Pulse Survey to get a sense of the rapid changes occurring in people’s lives and livelihoods.[13] A sample of residents from every state answered questions – weekly for several months, then later every two weeks – about how the pandemic was affecting their household finances, health, education and other social and economic activities.

The survey asked people questions like:

  • Have you or anyone in your household experienced a loss of income since March 13?
  • In the last seven days, how difficult has it been for your household to pay for usual expenses?
  • How confident are you that your household will be able to afford the food you need for the next four weeks?
  • How confident are you that your household will be able to pay your next rent or mortgage payment on time?

We now have more than 20 installments of Alabama responses to this survey, and they are both frightening and telling. These responses inform much of this report. They provide snapshots of the impact of the pandemic and resulting recession on Alabamians’ economic and employment status. They provide crucial information about Alabamians’ ability to pay bills, access health care and participate in education. And they show us how people are making ends meet – or not – during the crisis.

Snapshots of pandemic life in Alabama

The Household Pulse Survey has rolled out in three phases, reflecting stages of the pandemic. The spring/early summer stage ran from late April until late July. The late summer/fall stage ran from mid-August until late October. And the winter stage runs from Oct. 28 until March 2021.

Because the questions have been tweaked and the frequency of the survey has changed between the phases, we can’t compare results in one phase to that in others, so we have to treat each stage as its own snapshot during each season of the pandemic. It’s important to know, too, that not everyone who answered the survey answered every question. Some survey questions have a high “non-response rate,” which could skew our understanding of the results. Household Pulse data included in this report does not include non-responses. While these caveats limit the conclusions we can draw from the data, the survey nonetheless offers valuable real-time reporting on the pandemic’s profound and far-reaching impact on our state.

Click here for more information on the survey.[14]


The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)
Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Poverty Rate by Race/Ethnicity,” State Health Facts 2019, https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/poverty-rate-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D.

[2] Urban Institute, “Debt in America: An Interactive Map” (Dec. 17, 2019), https://apps.urban.org/features/debt-interactive-map/?type=overall&variable=pct_debt_collections&state=1.

[3] Andrea Hsu, “Florida Just Passed a $15 Minimum Wage. Is the Time Right for a Big Nationwide Hike?,” NPR (Nov. 18, 2020), https://www.npr.org/2020/11/18/934476124/florida-just-passed-a-15-minimum-wage-is-the-time-right-for-a-big-nationwide-hik.

[4] Alabama Arise, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, “Section 3 – Who’s still left out of health coverage in Alabama?” (June 17, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/resources/medicaid-matters-section-3-whos-still-left-out-of-health-coverage.

[5] A+ Education Partnership, “No Child Left Offline: Tackling the Digital Divide in Alabama” (Aug. 17, 2020), https://aplusala.org/blog/2020/08/17/no-child-left-offline-tackling-the-digital-divide-in-alabama.

[6] U.S. Department of Agriculture, “USDA Invests $62.3 Million in Rural Broadband Infrastructure for Alabama Families” (Dec. 5, 2019), https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2019/12/05/usda-invests-623-million-rural-broadband-infrastructure-alabama.

[7] Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR), Detailed Monthly Statistical Reporting for DHR Services, Table 19: Food Assistance Program (February 2020), https://dhr.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/STAT0220.pdf; ibid. (October 2020), https://dhr.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/STAT1020.pdf.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Celida Soto Garcia, “P-EBT, rapid school actions keep Alabama children fed,” Alabama Arise (Sept. 23, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/blog-posts/p-ebt-rapid-school-actions-keep-alabama-children-fed.

[10] Koné Consulting, Report: Pandemic EBT Implementation Documentation Project 13 (September 2020), https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/P-EBT-Documentation-Report.pdf.

[11] Benefits.gov, “Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG),” https://www.benefits.gov/benefit/5890.

[12] Alabama Department of Labor, “ADOL Announces Extended Benefits Program to Expire: Benefits to Continue Through October 3” (Sept. 14, 2020), https://labor.alabama.gov/news_feed/News_Page.aspx?id=274.

[13] U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey Data Tables, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html.

[14] U.S. Census Bureau, “Household Pulse Survey: Measuring Social and Economic Impacts during the Coronavirus Pandemic,” https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey.html.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 2 – Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy

State of Working Alabama logo

COVID-19 revealed a stark reality about Alabama’s economy from the beginning: Our state has stacked the deck against underpaid working people. A high poverty rate, low educational attainment and poor health outcomes – with racial, ethnic and geographical disparities in all of these measures – are the results of low wages, low taxes and low funding for health care, education and other basic services.[1] These are all low-road policies that will not strengthen our economy or improve Alabamians’ quality of life.

These patterns reflect centuries of racial and economic oppression. They are grounded in slavery and prolonged by our explicitly white supremacist 1901 state constitution. Alabama voters acknowledged this shameful legacy and took a step toward dismantling it in November 2020, when they approved an amendment to remove racist provisions from the constitution.[2] The amendment passed by a 2-to-1 margin.[3]

Public school segregation, poll taxes and prohibition of “mixed-race” marriage already had been successfully challenged through federal lawsuits and legislation. But striking them from the cornerstone of state law lifts a symbolic barrier to equality. Strong statewide support for the measure suggests the time is right to tackle more substantial and intractable barriers like the ones described in this report.

Despite barriers, Alabama’s labor movement persists

COVID-19 has highlighted the state’s long-standing low regard for protecting Alabama’s working people. Worker protections have a checkered history in Alabama, not surprisingly for a state powered by an enslaved workforce in its first five decades. Systematic labor exploitation continued into the 20th century, both in agriculture under the sharecropper system and in industry under convict leasing.

But the industrial boom around Birmingham in the late 1800s, and later in Mobile, ushered in an organized labor movement. The movement has waxed and waned in response to wartime and peacetime economies, race relations, industrial trends and globalization, but it has never completely gone away. At 8% of the workforce, Alabama’s union membership rate remains the highest in the South.[4]

A stacked policy deck against working Alabamians

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Alabama has adopted a “red carpet” approach to industrial development, granting generous tax abatements and other incentives while failing to modernize wage levels[5] and worker benefits.[6] Stacking the deck against workers created a “preexisting condition” that intensified the impact of COVID-19, hindering the state’s ability to respond to massive economic disruption and to mitigate its effects on working families.

In pursuing this low-road approach, Alabama has prioritized low wages and low taxes over investing in the state’s people. The result is an economy that disadvantages wage workers and people of color. A major force in this inequity is our “right-to-work” laws, which date to the 1950s. These and related laws severely weaken worker rights in Alabama and allow proliferation of low-wage jobs, sometimes with hazardous conditions.

”Right-to-work” laws make it harder for unions to organize, limit unions’ bargaining power and decrease their budgets.[7] In turn, these outcomes often result in suppressed wages and diminished political power for working people. Where unions do exist in Alabama, “right-to-work” laws undermine their effectiveness, entitling non-union workers to union benefits without paying dues. Manufacturing jobs, typically known for their strong union presence, account for about 13% of employment – more than 200,000 jobs – in Alabama.[8]

Preemption limits local power to solve local problems

Another state policy that has left working Alabamians unprepared to deal with the economic burden of COVID-19 is preemption. Rooted in post-Reconstruction attempts to suppress and disenfranchise Black people in the Deep South, preemption is the use of state law to nullify municipal authority.[9] It remains a popular tool for white, conservative legislators seeking to strike down progressive policies from large, majority Black urban areas.

Alabama used preemption twice in the last decade to reverse popular municipal ordinances that strengthened worker rights. In 2016, the Legislature struck down a Birmingham ordinance to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.10. This move effectively denied wage increases for 65,000 workers – who were disproportionately women and disproportionately Black.[10]

In February 2020, after the Montgomery City Council implemented a 1% occupational tax to support public services and hire more public employees,[11] the Legislature immediately nullified it.[12] The preemption measure requires cities to obtain legislative approval before levying taxes above the levels in place on Feb. 1, 2020. In both cases, Alabama’s majority white Legislature blocked policies that would have strengthened worker protections in predominantly Black cities (69.2% in Birmingham, and 60.8% in Montgomery).[13]

COVID-19 reveals need for pro-workforce policies

Ultimately, Alabama’s failure to strengthen worker protections and raise the wage floor amplified the pandemic’s impact. Thousands of underpaid working people lost their jobs, with little or no savings to fall back on afterward. Those who continued to work often did so in dangerous conditions without paid sick leave, health insurance or a living wage. As we chart Alabama’s course of economic recovery, balancing “pro-business” policies with pro-workforce ones will be key to long-term success.

A case in point is the issue of corporate immunity from COVID-19 liability claims.[14] Alabama legislative leaders identified this as a top priority for 2021 and rushed to enact it early in the regular session.[15] Many businesses, health care providers and other employers favor protection from what they see as the threat of lawsuits that could slow the reopening process. But liability poses low risk to businesses because the virus’s relatively long incubation period makes it difficult to prove exposure happened at a particular time and place.

By contrast, broad corporate immunity will increase the COVID-19 risk for workers and consumers.[16] Immunity reduces the incentive for employers and establishments to protect people from exposure. Without legal recourse for the health and financial consequences of COVID-19 illness, workers in unsafe workplaces may find themselves in a difficult bind: Risk exposure by clocking in – often without health insurance and sick leave – or risk getting fired by staying home. A balanced approach to corporate immunity would include expanding health coverage and workers’ compensation for low-wage workers.

One pandemic, many different experiences

In its ability to strike anyone at any time under the right circumstances, COVID-19 is an equal opportunity threat. But the experience of COVID-19 and its impact on lives and livelihoods varies widely across racial, ethnic and economic groups. Other sections of The State of Working Alabama 2021 will examine these disparate effects on Alabamians’ labor market, health coverage, food security and other workforce conditions.


The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)
Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] County Health Rankings, “2020 Alabama Report,” https://www.countyhealthrankings.org/reports/state-reports/2020-alabama-report.

[2] Jim Carnes, “Why Alabama Arise supports Amendment 4,” Alabama Arise (Oct. 16, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/blog-posts/why-alabama-arise-supports-amendment-4.

[3] Brian Lyman, “Alabama votes to allow purge of racist constitutional language,” USA Today (Nov. 6, 2020), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/11/06/alabama-votes-allow-purge-racist-constitutional-language/6185508002.

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers by state, 2018-19,” https://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.t05.htm.

[5] Alabama Asset Building Coalition, Advancing Employment Equity in Alabama (April 2018), https://nationalequityatlas.org/sites/default/files/Employment_Equity-Alabama_04_03_18.pdf.

[6] Diana Boesch, Rachel Kershaw & Osub Ahmed, “Fast Facts: Economic Security for Women and Families in Alabama,” Center for American Progress (Aug. 8, 2019), https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/08/08/473358/fast-facts-economic-security-women-families-alabama.

[7] See, e.g., Alex Camardelle, “Worker Power Key to a Better Balance in Georgia,” Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (Sept. 3, 2020), https://gbpi.org/worker-power-key-to-a-better-balance-in-georgia.

[8] National Association of Manufacturers, “2019 Alabama Manufacturing Facts,” https://www.nam.org/state-manufacturing-data/2019-alabama-manufacturing-facts.

[9] National League of Cities Center for City Solutions, “City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis,” 2018 Update, https://www.nlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/NLC-SML-Preemption-Report-2017-pages.pdf.

[10] Hunter Blair, David Cooper, Julia Wolfe & Jaimie Worker, “Preempting Progress,” Economic Policy Institute (Sept. 30, 2020), https://www.epi.org/publication/preemption-in-the-south.

[11] Sara MacNeil, “City passes 1% tax on people who work in Montgomery,” Montgomery Advertiser (Feb. 19, 2020), https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2020/02/19/city-passes-1-percent-tax-people-who-work-montgomery/4781312002.

[12] Mike Cason, “Alabama lawmakers pass restriction on city occupational taxes,” AL.com (Feb. 28, 2020), https://www.al.com/news/2020/02/alabama-lawmakers-pass-restriction-on-city-occupational-taxes.html.

[13] Blair, et al., supra note 10.

[14] Paul Dowdell, “Immunity from Liability in the Age of COVID-19: A New Reality for Trial Lawyers?,” American Bar Association (Aug. 31, 2020), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/trial-practice/articles/2020/immunity-from-liability-covid-19-trial-lawyers.

[15] Abby Driggers, “Gov. Ivey signs COVID-19 liability bill into law,” Opelika-Auburn News (Feb. 12, 2021), https://oanow.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/gov-ivey-signs-covid-19-liability-bill-into-law/article_3084205e-6d3b-11eb-94c6-dbaf546e98c8.html.

[16] Alabama Arise, “Alabama Arise testimony in opposition to corporate COVID-19 immunity bill” (Feb. 3, 2021), https://www.alarise.org/resources/alabama-arise-testimony-in-opposition-to-corporate-covid-19-immunity-bill.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 3 – Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market

State of Working Alabama logo

Where are we now?

The COVID-19 recession hit vulnerable Alabama workers hard and fast. Alabamians working in low-paying industries suffered immediate and severe job losses, which fell hardest on women and people of color. Unemployment insurance (UI), designed for just such a moment, was inadequate and insufficient to the needs of these workers because of Alabama’s policy choices.

By December 2020, after the first nine months of the pandemic, 35,400 fewer Alabamians were employed than in February 2020.[1] That reflects a 1.7% drop in overall employment, which includes people who have dropped out of the labor market. The hardest-hit industry was leisure and hospitality, which lost 19,000 jobs, a 9.1% decline.[2] People working in this industry, which includes restaurants and entertainment establishments, often have fewer educational opportunities and lower incomes. They also are disproportionately women, people of color and younger adults.[3]

Also hard-hit was the education and health industry, which lost 16,600 jobs (a 6.6% decline) and also disproportionately employs women.[4] In Alabama, 81% of health care workers are women, as are 89% of child care and social service workers.[5] Almost instantly as the pandemic struck, Alabama’s official unemployment rate shot up to 13.8%.[6] By December, it had declined to 3.9% – still an increase of 1 percentage point over February 2020.[7]

The precipitous increase in unemployment during the first six months of the COVID-19 recession was nearly five times Alabama’s job loss during the first six months of the Great Recession.[8] Many Alabama workers simply had no cushion to reduce the damage.

Job losses hammered women, people of color

The official unemployment rate masks the true extent of the damage, especially among women and communities of color. The true number of jobless Alabamians is much higher once we also take into account the people temporarily furloughed when their businesses were closed. These are real job and income losses that are not included in the official unemployment rate. By this count, almost two out of every five working-age Alabamians reported they were not working during the spring/early summer stage of the crisis (late April until late July).[9]

In the same period, women and workers of color – especially Black workers – were hit the hardest. Half of women reported they were not working, compared to 43% of men.[10] Nearly 53% of Black respondents reported they were not working, compared to 47% of white people.[11] Hispanic/Latinx respondents reported not working at a rate roughly the same as white respondents.[12]

Joblessness remained elevated above pre-pandemic levels into mid-December, especially for women. While three out of 10 working-age Alabamians reported not working, a full 47% of women were jobless, a number significantly elevated above the 38% of men who were out of work.[13] The large differences in the percentages of men and women working during both the spring/early summer and late summer/fall stages reflect both the concentration of women working in the hardest-hit industries and the impact of child care responsibilities on working women.

UI claims reflect recession’s racial, gender disparities

Alabama’s claims for UI benefits tell a similar story. More than 967,000 initial unemployment claims were filed between the weeks of March 14, 2020, and Feb. 6, 2021.[14] If each claim were from a single worker, that number would be 45% of all employed people in Alabama as of December 2020.[15]

Alabama unemployment insurance claims have slowed but continued to rise. The graph shows the steepest increase between March and May and fairly steady cumulative growth in UI claims since then. Cumulative claims through the first 11 months of the pandemic have reached nearly 1 million.

With the U.S. average duration of unemployment at 22.8 weeks[16] and an Alabama initial claim payout rate of 47%,[17] the state would be on pace to pay more than 9.4 million weeks of benefits on claims arising through the week of Feb. 6, 2021, with the same benefit duration and eligibility structure available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This is a massive increase over pre-pandemic unemployment.

There were fewer than 2,000 UI claims for the week of March 14, 2020, the claim period immediately before the pandemic began causing widespread business shutdowns. Since then, the average weekly number of UI claims has been 1,105% higher than that amount, as of Feb. 6, 2021.[18]

UI claims underscore the racial inequities driving COVID-19’s unequal impact on employment. Black workers lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic at a much higher rate than their percentage of the overall workforce. Forty-seven percent of state UI claimants since March are Black, far higher than the 25% Black share of the state’s total workforce.[19]

COVID-19 job losses hit Black workers nearly twice as hard as other Alabamians. Black workers made up 25% of Alabama's workforce in 2020 but 47% of Alabama's unemployment insurance claimants in 2020.

Gender disparities in UI claims also reflect worsening inequities in the workforce. Women make up 58% of Alabama’s UI claimants since March but only 47% of the workforce overall.[20] Women also face greatly increased exposure to the dangers of COVID-19 because they work the majority of health care jobs.[21]

The pandemic’s high economic toll in rural Alabama

The recovery from catastrophically high unemployment has been inequitable by region. Rural counties in Alabama’s Black Belt in particular have lagged behind the state average in returning to pre-pandemic UI claim levels. The populations of these counties are disproportionately Black, and residents continue to face long-term negative consequences both from centuries of wealth extraction and the state’s failure to invest adequately in community well-being.

Black Belt residents also have been economically harmed by unusually high long-term unemployment.[22] Persistently high unemployment resulting from the pandemic simply compounds the region’s existing unemployment and wage disparities.

Rural Black Belt counties were slower to recover from peak unemployment. The percentage of peak unemployment in Black Belt counties (excluding Montgomery) did not return to the statewide average until October.

How did we get here?

Long-term neglect and recent harmful policy changes to the UI system failed Alabama’s workers when they needed the most support. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the state’s failure to maintain and modernize its UI claim infrastructure.[23] Alabama’s UI claim system was unsuited to the unprecedented demand, in part because it operated on outdated technology, as do many other states’ systems. The state’s failure to modernize its computer systems caused long periods of severe financial stress for Alabamians who could afford it the least.

The flawed structure of the state’s UI system is intentional. Alabama’s low-road policy decisions have consistently devalued workers and perpetuated inequality by keeping people insecure about meeting basic needs. The state’s neglect of the claims system is a passive example of undermining worker well-being, but officials also recently have taken active steps that harmed workers.

In 2019, the Legislature and governor enacted a law that lowered the total amount of UI benefits significantly. The law reduced the length of time a worker could claim benefits from 26 weeks to 14, or 19 if a worker could participate in approved job training.[24] It also tied a potential increase of weeks of benefits to reported overall state unemployment rates from the prior quarter.

Besides its harmful impact on workers, the recent UI restriction has two major conceptual flaws. First, the changes fail to account for significant differences in employment opportunities across the state. This increases pressure on people to find work where few or no jobs exist. Second, the lag in reporting the unemployment rate failed to account for the sort of catastrophic economic conditions that COVID-19 delivered. When unemployment rises quickly and sharply, the number of weeks that UI benefits are available does not increase quickly enough to prevent economic pain for unemployed workers.

A UI system that isn’t meeting Alabamians’ needs

Alabama’s UI system has a low payout rate. Though the number of repeated weeks of claims for a single loss of employment has dropped since March 2020, fewer than half of initial claims had been deemed valid and paid out through Nov. 30.[25] This low payout rate shows Alabama is not doing enough to provide UI coverage to people harmed by layoffs.

The state’s failure to pay out claims in a timely manner has compounded the hardship for Alabamians out of work because of COVID-19. And further, the state response has inaccurately assessed the damage that the pandemic has caused to Alabama workers. The state Department of Labor has classified a substantial portion of these UI claims as unrelated to COVID-19.[26] But that characterization is unpersuasive in light of the drastic increase in claims, with the pandemic’s beginning the only major change in workforce conditions.

Lack of broadband access limits opportunities

The COVID-19 shutdown has heightened the impact of Alabama’s “digital divide.” As schools and many workplaces shifted to online activities, workers with lower incomes often found themselves at a double disadvantage. First, their jobs were less likely to be adaptable to remote settings. Second, their households were less likely to have the reliable internet connection and computer equipment required for online learning or work.

Alabama’s lack of broadband internet can limit remote work even for people whose jobs allow it. The Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act defines an “unserved area” as a rural part of the state where internet service falls below the minimum threshold of an average 25 megabits per second for downloading and 3 megabits per second for uploading.[27] And much of Alabama is designated as “unserved” by the state authority that oversees broadband access.[28] Huge swaths of rural Alabama are caught in this gap, including almost all of Greene and Perry counties and much of west Alabama from Fayette and Lamar counties in the north to Choctaw and Clarke counties in the south.[29] Even in relatively urbanized counties like Jefferson, Madison, Montgomery and Shelby, many rural areas lack reliable internet service.[30]

One-time relief payments simply aren’t enough

Relief payments helped individuals and families pay the bills but went away too soon. The quick passage of the CARES Act in late March 2020 provided a lifeline for Alabama families reeling from the shutdown.[31] In the spring/early summer stage, an average of 23% of Alabamians who were not working (including both those who were unemployed and those who are retired) reported relying on the relief payments to help with bills.[32]

In a telling and troubling sign, the percentage of such households declined over the same period.[33] This probably reflects exhaustion of one-time stimulus checks as people used them to meet basic needs. In mid-June, 34% of people who were not working said they used relief funds to pay bills during the past week.[34] This percentage declined to 17% by mid-July.[35]

What should we do now?

Alabama can create a better system for responding to the needs of workers who lose their jobs. Worker-friendly policies create a better, more stable economy for everyone. Alabama can make several changes that would improve conditions for unemployed workers, including strengthening work supports, fixing the UI system and improving implementation of federal COVID-19 relief measures. Specifically:

  • Alabama must invest in its UI compensation infrastructure, both human and technological, to improve our ability to get these funds out quickly to unemployed people. Specific changes would include institutionalizing the recent temporary move to 26 or more weeks of UI assistance and permanently repealing the 2019 law cutting available weeks of assistance. In addition, the Alabama Department of Labor should issue guidance to allow people at high risk from COVID-19 to retain UI benefits if they quit a job that is taking insufficient virus precautions.
  • The state should stop conditioning receipt of benefits on participation in job training programs. Workers receiving UI benefits already have demonstrated a desire to work and the ability to maintain long-term employment by meeting the minimum earnings and time requirements for UI eligibility. Creating barriers for people who lose their jobs only serves to punish job seekers and burden an already strained state claims system.
  • The state should expand the availability of work supports, including training, child care and transportation. To get to work, people first need the ability to get to the workplace. They also need adequate job preparation and reliable care for family members to ensure full participation in the state’s economy.
  • Expand high-speed, affordable broadband technology, targeting rural and low-income communities and explicitly addressing racial equity in broadband access.
Federal relief
  • Alabama should direct significant federal relief funds to emergency housing and utility assistance. Unemployed Alabama workers are facing hunger, eviction and utility shutoffs in the dead of winter. And Alabamians already pay one of the highest rates for electricity in the South. While federal relief funding is available for emergency housing and utility assistance, the housing assistance is still being processed by the state, and utility assistance ran out in January. CARES Act funding could fill the temporary void in housing assistance and supplement the inadequate federal utility assistance.
  • Congress should pass a comprehensive new relief package. Significant numbers of unemployed Alabamians relied on relief payments to meet basic needs early in the recession. That need has not disappeared. Congress’ next relief measure should increase targeted relief payments and reinstate the $600 weekly federal UI boost for eligible workers. The package also should expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and make the Child Tax Credit fully refundable. And it should extend the December 2020 increase to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of Local Area Unemployment Statistics data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), December 2020.

[2] EPI analysis of BLS Current Employment Statistics, December 2020.

[3] Hye Jin Rho, Hayley Brown & Shawn Fremstad, “A Basic Demographic Profile of Workers in Frontline Industries,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (April 7, 2020), https://cepr.net/a-basic-demographic-profile-of-workers-in-frontline-industries.

[4] EPI analysis, supra note 1.

[5] Rho, supra note 3.

[6] Alabama Department of Labor, http://www2.labor.alabama.gov/LAUS/LAUSTab.aspx.

[7] Ibid.

[8] EPI analysis, supra note 2.

[9] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 1, April 23 – July 21, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase1.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Id.

[13] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 2, Aug. 19 – Oct. 26, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase2.

[14] Alabama Department of Labor, “Initial Unemployment Claims for Week Ending 2/6/2021,” https://www.labor.alabama.gov/news_feed/News_Page.aspx?id=318.

[15] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Economy at a Glance,” https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.al.htm.

[16] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Unemployed persons by duration of unemployment” (Feb. 6, 2020), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t12.htm.

[17] The Century Foundation, “Who Is Getting UI?” (Jan. 24, 2021), https://tcf.org/content/report/unemployment-insurance-data-dashboard.

[18] Alabama Arise calculations based on Alabama Department of Labor, supra note 14.

[19] The Century Foundation, “Who Is Getting UI?,” supra note 17.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employed persons by detailed industry, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity” (Jan. 22, 2020), https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18.htm.

[22] Alabama Department of Labor, “Civilian Labor Force by County – December 2020,” http://www2.labor.alabama.gov/LAUS/clfbycnty.aspx (citing 2019 unemployment data).

[23] Lydia Nusbaum, “State’s system overwhelmed as number of unemployment claims surge,” WSFA 12 News (March 25, 2020), https://www.wsfa.com/2020/03/25/states-system-overwhelmed-number-unemployment-claims-surge.

[24] SB 193, 2019 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature, https://legiscan.com/AL/bill/SB193/2019.

[25] The Century Foundation, “Unemployment Insurance Data Dashboard” (updated Jan. 24, 2021), https://tcf.org/content/report/unemployment-insurance-data-dashboard (citing Alabama Department of Labor report to U.S. Departments of Treasury and Labor).

[26] See generally Alabama Department of Labor, News, https://labor.alabama.gov/news_feed/News_Page.aspx (linking press releases with individual weekly breakdowns of UI claims caused by COVID-19 and purportedly not caused by COVID-19).

[27] Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), “Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund Frequently Asked Questions,” https://adeca.alabama.gov/Divisions/energy/broadband/Broadband%20Docs/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions.docx.

[28] ADECA, “Alabama Broadband Eligibility Map – Unserved Areas as of 11/23/2020,” https://adeca.alabama.gov/Divisions/energy/broadband/Broadband Docs/Alabama_Broadband_Eligibility_Map_Unserved_Areas.pdf.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Sharon Parrott, Chad Stone, Chye-Ching Huang, Michael Leachman, Peggy Bailey, Aviva Aron-Dine, Stacy Dean & LaDonna Pavetti, “CARES Act Includes Essential Measures to Respond to Public Health, Economic Crises, But More Will Be Needed,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (March 27, 2020), https://www.cbpp.org/research/economy/cares-act-includes-essential-measures-to-respond-to-public-health-economic-crises.

[32] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 1, April 23 – July 21, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase1.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Week 7 Household Pulse Survey: June 11 – June 16, Employment Table 2, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2020/demo/hhp/hhp7.html.

[35] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Week 12 Household Pulse Survey: July 16 – July 21, Employment Table 2, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2020/demo/hhp/hhp12.html.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 4 – Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic

State of Working Alabama logo

Where are we now?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve grown used to seeing, and applauding, signs in front of hospitals, fire departments, police stations and other emergency service providers saying “Heroes work here.” And we’ve learned to say “thank you” to people serving their communities’ needs at grocery, drug and convenience stores.

We’ve learned to call these folks “essential workers” and “front-line heroes,” recognizing they are putting themselves at elevated COVID-19 risk to provide the rest of us with essential needs during a frightening pandemic. But Alabama’s actions on wages, health coverage and worker protections do not live up to the promise of those words.

How did we get here?

Front-line workers include tens of thousands of people working in public-facing jobs that put them at increased COVID-19 risk. Alabamians working in grocery stores, hospitals and pharmacies perform necessary tasks to keep our communities functioning during the pandemic. But their jobs often tend to pay less and offer fewer benefits.

The physical and financial burdens on the front-line workers facing those health risks are unevenly distributed. Alabamians in jobs like health care, food service and child care are disproportionately likely to be people of color and women. And state and national policy failures on COVID-19 are more likely to hit them the hardest.

Nearly two-thirds of Alabama’s front-line workers are women, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, though women comprise just under half of the state’s total workforce.[1] And women make up an even larger share of workers in some crucial front-line industries. Women comprise 81% of Alabama’s health care workers and 89% of child care and social services workers.[2] These jobs often involve consistent exposure to large numbers of people and thus greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Alabama front-line workers are much more likely to be women. Women make up 66.4% of all Alabama front-line workers and 80.6% of Alabama health care workers.

PPE shortages endanger health care workers

Health care accounts for more than one in 10 jobs in Alabama.[3] And the higher proportion of women in this field contributes to an overall gender-based disparity for coronavirus exposure. In many facilities – especially early in the pandemic – personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gloves and face shields has run short for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

This structural failure has forced many workers to reuse PPE, posing potentially severe health risks. Get Us PPE, a grassroots organization founded by emergency physicians, reports that it received nearly 300 requests for PPE from Alabama businesses and health care providers between March and October.[4] Nationally, the group was able to provide only 12% of the total PPE requested.[5] Production and supply chain problems continue to cause PPE shortages, even for many health care facilities.

Low pay abounds in critical front-line industries

The wages and work conditions for front-line workers often don’t reflect the importance of their work. And that is especially true in fields where women predominate. Child care workers in Alabama for example, have a median wage of $9.19 an hour.[6] For home health workers, the median hourly wage is $11.89, and for cashiers, it is only $9.81.[7] By contrast, more predominantly male jobs like production and construction have median wages beginning at $15.11 per hour.[8]

Many workers received higher hourly wages early in the pandemic, but some employers began eliminating hazard bonuses as early as May. In the retail sector – already filled with low-wage jobs with sparse benefits – major employers like Amazon[9] and Kroger[10] ended wage bonuses before July 4, 2020.

UI cutoffs, eviction risk add to economic pressure

Returning to work at unsustainably low wages amid a pandemic isn’t the only way many hard-working Alabamians are being squeezed. The state also placed workers at risk of homelessness with an ill-timed, one-two policy punch. First came a wave of unemployment insurance (UI) benefit cutoffs beginning in May 2020.[11] A month later, Alabama lifted its two-month moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent.[12] Adding to the squeeze, a federally funded $600 weekly UI benefit increase lapsed at the end of July 2020, and Congress has renewed only half of that amount through March 14, 2021.[13]

The Biden administration has extended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s eviction moratorium through March.[14] But that moratorium does not cover all renters affected by COVID-19 and requires unnecessary paperwork. Alabama should reimplement its own eviction moratorium rather than relying on the more limited federal version.

Lack of health coverage increases risk for many people of color in Alabama

Structural factors leave Black and Hispanic/Latinx people at increased risk from COVID-19. Together, they account for a disproportionate share of workers in front-line jobs.[15] And because of long-term, systemic racism that creates barriers to regular health care,[16] Black Alabamians are more likely to have underlying conditions that worsen coronavirus outcomes.

Black workers hold a disproportionate share of front-line jobs in Alabama. Black people are 25% of Alabama's labor force but 31% of front-line workers. The corresponding shares for white Alabamians are 68.3% and 63.6%. For Hispanic/Latinx workers: 3.8% and 2.3%. For Asian American/Pacific Islander workers: 1.8% and 1.3%.

Even among front-line workers, people of color are more likely to face heightened exposure in certain public-facing industries. In Alabama, the share of Black people working in grocery or convenience stores is two and a half times larger than in the U.S. workforce overall.[17] The share of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who work in grocery and convenience stores is double their percentage of Alabama’s overall population.[18]

Despite these elevated risks, Black and Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians are far more likely than white people to lack health insurance coverage. And because Alabama hasn’t expanded Medicaid, Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents are more likely to fall into the health coverage gap, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford insurance. People of color make up 34% of Alabama’s population but comprise 49% of uninsured Alabamians with low incomes.[19]

Data on the composition of front-line workers cannot account for differing exposure rates based on specific jobs within those career fields. But given that women in medical fields often face bias inhibiting their promotion into supervisory roles, women are likely at greater risk of coronavirus infection than their high proportion in the health care industry indicates. And overall, people of color are more likely to work non-supervisory jobs with higher public exposure in many front-line fields.

A choice no one should have to make

As a result, many older adults, cancer survivors and immunocompromised people face a stark choice between their lives and livelihoods. They must either subject themselves to a higher chance of death from COVID-19 or risk hunger and homelessness when they leave dangerous jobs or when the state cuts off UI benefits. Black and Hispanic/Latinx people, women and struggling families bear the brunt of this front-line risk.

What should we do now?

The pandemic has shined a light on many of Alabama’s policy mistakes. The state and nation can take this opportunity to fix harsh, shortsighted policies that devalue and harm working people by taking the following steps:

  • Expand Medicaid to cover low-paid Alabama adults. Expansion would ensure that front-line workers who lack health insurance can access treatment for COVID-19 and other health risks.
  • Allocate a share of the state’s federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover increased pay and benefits for front-line workers. This could and should include hazard pay for health care workers and direct service providers in long-term care during the pandemic.
  • Include workers’ compensation for illnesses related to COVID-19 among front-line workers as a key component of fair pay policy.
  • Guarantee permanent paid sick leave for all working Alabamians, regardless of employer size, so that no one has to choose between earning a paycheck and going to work sick.
  • Encourage workforce diversity and equal employment opportunities so more women and people of color can enter higher-paying jobs. Workforce development programs should develop inclusive trainee recruitment plans that prioritize women and people of color. Employers also should engage actively in efforts to expand child care and other work support programs that facilitate workforce diversity.
  • State and federal policymakers should aggressively address wage and employment discrimination based on gender and race to reduce occupational segregation and wage disparities.
  • Congress should increase the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hour. A crucial way to honor “front-line heroes” is to ensure they are paid enough to make ends meet.
  • The Biden administration should bring procurement and distribution of PPE under federal control. This step would help increase front-line workers’ access to the protective equipment they need for the duration of this pandemic.
In focus

Tens of thousands of front-line workers left out of paid sick days protections

Like most states, Alabama does not require employers to provide paid sick, family, parental or personal leave. Long-standing government hostility to workers’ rights and Alabama’s origin as a plantation economy have made progress on workers’ issues difficult. This dearth of public policy protections for working people is a major reason Alabama is in an unsustainable position amid the pandemic. And other traditional methods of gaining economic security for working-class people, like unionization, are less robust here than elsewhere.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government provided the first paid leave provision available in many states. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided 80 hours of paid sick leave, paid at full wages for workers infected with COVID-19 and two-thirds wages for family caregiving.[20] For Alabamians, total amounts paid through Feb. 16, 2021, to workers who lacked paid leave before the FFCRA would have been $1.26 billion.[21]

Unfortunately, Congress exempted companies with more than 500 employees from the FFCRA’s paid leave requirements. And further exceptions existed for businesses with fewer than 50 workers if a business could not pay a worker’s child care leave, or if lack of an employee would place the business at risk of failure, potentially requiring workers to work while having COVID-19 for the survival of their employer.[22]

Due to these exclusions, far too many Alabamians lack paid sick leave in the midst of the pandemic. Almost 840,000 people employed by major employers lack guaranteed coverage, and as many as another 421,000 Alabamians employed by small businesses could lose access as well because of the small business waiver.[23] All told, four in five workers in Alabama lack access to paid sick days thanks to loopholes in the FFCRA.[24]

Why Alabama should enact a paid leave law

Widespread lack of paid sick leave for Alabama’s low-wage jobs lessens job security and raises Alabamians’ health care costs. Paid sick leave and health insurance are two sides of the same coin. One benefit without the other forces working people to go to work while sick, exposing their coworkers to illness. It also forces people to take off work only when symptoms are severe, requiring more expensive care and longer recovery time. In a pandemic, this dilemma is literally a matter of life and death.

To fix this shortcoming, Alabama should implement the core of the FFCRA at the state level. But the state should remove the large-employer exception and reimburse small employers contemporaneously for emergency child care leave. This would avoid unnecessary strain on small employers’ finances and relieve major stressors on working Alabamians.

Alabama should lead the way for the South by taking these important steps on comprehensive family and sick leave. These policies would increase stability for working people and promote greater resilience in the face of health-related setbacks.


The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Hye Jin Rho, Hayley Brown & Shawn Fremstad, “A Basic Demographic Profile of Workers in Frontline Industries,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (April 7, 2020), https://cepr.net/a-basic-demographic-profile-of-workers-in-frontline-industries.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Amanda Peery-Wolf, Ali Hickerson & Stephanie Zeller, Get Us PPE Shortage Index (December 2020), https://v9b3g8f2.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/PPE-Shortage-Index-December-2020-Get-Us-PPE.pdf.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates – Alabama (March 31, 2020), https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_al.htm.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Isobel Asher Hamilton, “Amazon Drops $2 Coronavirus Pay Rise for Warehouse Workers As Jeff Bezos’ Fortune Nears $150 Billion,” Business Insider (June 3, 2020), https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-cuts-2-dollar-hazard-pay-bezos-150-billion-2020-6.

[10] Dan Monk, “Kroger CEO: No more hazard pay for grocery workers,” WCPO 9 News (June 25, 2020), https://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/i-team/kroger-ceo-no-more-hazard-pay-for-grocery-workers.

[11] Sarah Whites-Koditschek, “Alabama begins cutting unemployment for thousands for ‘refusal to work,’” AL.com (June 23, 2020), https://www.al.com/news/2020/06/alabama-begins-cutting-employment-for-thousands-for-refusal-to-work.html.

[12] Moriah Mason, “The federal eviction moratorium has been extended, but is it enough?,” Alabama Political Reporter (Jan. 28, 2021), https://www.alreporter.com/2021/01/28/the-federal-eviction-moratorium-has-been-extended-but-is-it-enough.

[13] Jennifer Liu, “Millions of unemployed Americans will get a $300 per week federal UI boost through March with new stimulus bill,” CNBC (Dec. 21, 2020), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/21/new-stimulus-provides-300-per-week-11-weeks-enhanced-unemployment.html.

[14] Mason, supra note 12.

[15] Celine McNicholas & Margaret Poydock, “Who are essential workers? A comprehensive look at their wages, demographics and unionization rates,” Economic Policy Institute (May 19, 2020), https://www.epi.org/blog/who-are-essential-workers-a-comprehensive-look-at-their-wages-demographics-and-unionization-rates.

[16] See, e.g., Grace Segers, “Fauci says he knows of no order to slow down coronavirus testing,” CBS News (June 23, 2020), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/fauci-coronavirus-testing-house-committee-testimony (quoting Dr. Anthony Fauci on the public health effects of institutional racism).

[17] Center for Economic and Policy Research analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Community Population Survey 2014-18 five-year estimates; Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Civilian labor force by age, race, sex and ethnicity,” 2019.

[18] Annette Jones Watters, “Diversity in Alabama,” University of Alabama, Center for Business and Economic Research (Aug. 7, 2019), https://cber.culverhouse.ua.edu/2019/08/07/diversity-in-alabama.

[19] Alabama Arise, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, “Section 4 – How can we make Alabama healthier?” (June 17, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/resources/medicaid-matters-section-4-how-can-we-make-alabama-healthier.

[20] Kellie Moss, Lindsey Dawson, Michelle Long, Jennifer Kates, MaryBeth Musumeci, Juliette Cubanski & Karen Pollitz, “The Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Summary of Key Provisions,” Kaiser Family Foundation (March 23, 2020), https://www.kff.org/global-health-policy/issue-brief/the-families-first-coronavirus-response-act-summary-of-key-provisions.

[21] Alabama Arise analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/laus_03272020.pdf, https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2019/access-to-paid-and-unpaid-family-leave-in-2018.htm and https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_al.htm.

[22] Moss, et al., supra note 20.

[23] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Quarterly Workforce Indicators, Q4 2019.

[24] Ibid.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 5 – Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19

State of Working Alabama logo

Where are we now?

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slammed all segments of Alabama’s economy and society in one way or another, the health care industry is where most of these effects converge. By the end of 2020, more than 350,000 Alabamians had tested positive or were considered likely positive for the virus, 72% of them in the working-age range of 18 to 64.[1] More than 4,500 Alabamians had died of COVID-19 by Christmas.[2]

The pandemic’s toll has continued to mount in 2021. Alabama had the 11th highest COVID-19 death rate among states in mid-February 2021.[3] That means a higher share of Alabamians have died from the virus than in most other parts of the country. By mid-February, Alabama’s COVID-19 deaths in less than a year had surpassed 9,200,[4] far more than the number of Alabamians who died in World War II and all subsequent wars.[5] The average risk of death from the virus remains low, but:

  • The risk is not distributed evenly across age, racial/ethnic and economic groups.
  • Complications can be long-lasting and debilitating.
  • Everyone with a positive diagnosis has a new preexisting condition. This could affect their access to health coverage if Congress seeks to remove Affordable Care Act protections in the future.

Pandemic’s burden heavier on women, Black Alabamians

As COVID-19 swept across the country in spring 2020, the virus’s disproportionate impact on Black Americans quickly became apparent in emergency rooms, ICUs and death data, where that information was available.[6] When the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) began daily COVID-19 data reporting in early April, Black people accounted for 52.1% of confirmed deaths,[7] while comprising only 26.6% of the population. Americans of color are more likely to have chronic health problems than their white counterparts for numerous reasons. These factors include barriers to health care, transportation, adequate nutrition and other basic necessities.

Other sections of this report highlight Alabama’s disproportionate reliance on women and people of color in various jobs that pose high risk of coronavirus exposure. Health care workers are a special case in this regard. For these workers, contact with infected individuals is not just a risk but a job requirement. And the Alabamians meeting this challenge are overwhelmingly women, at 80.6% of the health care workforce.[8] Black people make up 31.2% of Alabama’s health care workers, as compared to their 25% share of the state workforce overall.[9]

As providers of costly health services, doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes are businesses, too. They can’t operate without keeping their personnel safe, functional and paid, without essential supplies on hand, and without keeping the doors open – challenges for any business during a pandemic. While many retail, manufacturing and hospitality businesses have seen their customer bases shrink dramatically during the shutdown, many health care providers have experienced waves of increased demand. Alabama’s failure to expand Medicaid to cover adults with low incomes has placed economic strain on providers serving these patients.

How did we get here?

The lifeblood of all this activity is the health insurance coverage that, for most Alabamians, pays much of the bill. While 55.9% of Alabama workers had employer-sponsored coverage in 2019, this overall rate masked wide disparity by race and ethnicity.[10] Among white workers, 62.2% had health insurance through their jobs, while the same was true for only 46.4% of Black workers and just 35.5% of Hispanic/Latinx workers in our state.[11]

Prior to COVID-19, almost 300,000 Alabamians with low incomes were caught in the state’s health coverage gap.[12] They earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under the state’s stringent eligibility limits but too little to afford private plans. Working-age Alabama parents are generally ineligible if their income is above 18% of the federal poverty line – just $3,960 a year for a family of three.[13] And virtually all Alabama adults without children are ineligible regardless of income.[14]

COVID-19 deepens coverage disparities by race, income

Working Alabamians make up the majority of those in the coverage gap, along with people who are caring for family members, going to school or awaiting disability determinations.[15] And the racial coverage disparity is stark: Forty-nine percent of uninsured Alabamians with low incomes are people of color, even though people of color make up just one-third of the state’s population.[16]

Job losses during the pandemic have reinforced racial disparities in health coverage. The initial impact during spring and early summer fell particularly hard on working-age Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians, who reported being uninsured at a rate of 30.3%. That was nearly twice the rate for Black people (15.7%) and nearly three times the rate for white people (10.3%).[17] Despite some gains, by late summer and early fall, Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians still reported being uninsured at twice the rate for white people.[18]

 

Hispanic and Black Alabamians are more likely to lack health coverage. 32.8% of Hispanic/Latinx residents were uninsured in the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic, and 20.7% were uninsured in the late summer/fall stage. The corresponding rates for Black residents were 17.8% and 13.5%. For white residents, the rates were 11.7% and 11.5%.

An analysis of uninsured rates by income level reveals even more striking disparities. During both the spring/early summer and late summer/fall stages of the pandemic, uninsured rates were highest by far for workers earning below $35,000 a year, and the rates decreased consistently as income increased.[19] In the first stage, Alabamians earning below $35,000 reported an uninsured rate of 27.2%, while those earning $100,000 and above showed a rate of just 3.8%.[20] In the second stage, those rates dropped to 22.9% and 1.8%, respectively.[21] Broadly speaking, the higher the income, the more likely workers are to have either employer-based health insurance or the means to purchase private plans.

 

Alabamians with lower incomes are more likely to lack health coverage. 27.2% of residents with an annual household income below $35,000 were uninsured in the early spring/summer stage of the pandemic, while 22.9% were uninsured in the late summer/fall stage. The corresponding rates for residents with incomes between $35,000 and $75,000 were 9.8% and 10.9%. For residents with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000, the rates were 3.5% and 4.9%. For residents with incomes above $100,000, the rates were 3.8% and 1.8%.

Expand Medicaid to save lives, advance racial equity

The most direct solution to these coverage gaps is Medicaid expansion. A 2019 UAB study estimated that expansion would enroll more than 346,000 Alabamians – most of the eligible uninsured, plus some people who are paying for insurance they can’t afford.[22] Alabama’s high uninsured rate for low-wage workers underscores the fact that Medicaid expansion is a pro-worker policy. And given the disproportionate share of people of color in the coverage gap, expanding Medicaid is the biggest step Alabama can take to advance racial equity in our health care system.

It’s been hard to break through with numerous policy solutions to remove Alabama’s barriers to health care. For example, Alabama Medicaid was unwilling to cover most telehealth services for people who lack reliable transportation – until the COVID-19 shutdown made remote services imperative. And though nutritional supports like vouchers for healthy groceries are available through Medicaid in some states, they’re not in Alabama.

Alabama also has refused to remove the 4% state sales tax on groceries,[23] which would make nutritious food more affordable and give all state households the equivalent of two weeks of free groceries every year. And most notably, Alabama has yet to join 38 other states (plus the District of Columbia) in covering working people with low incomes through Medicaid expansion,[24] a policy change that would directly address Alabama’s racial/ethnic health disparities.

As noted elsewhere in this report, many Alabama lawmakers have expressed more interest in protecting businesses from COVID-19 liability claims than in protecting working people from health risks and economic hardship. A balanced approach to corporate immunity would include expanding health coverage and workers’ compensation for the working Alabamians who have enabled companies to stay in business during the pandemic.

What should we do now?

Just as a hurricane or earthquake tests the strength of buildings and provides a template for improving durability, a health crisis like COVID-19 offers clear lessons for strengthening worker health protections and services. The following measures would help Alabama be better prepared for the next pandemic. They also would promote a healthier workforce and an economy in which everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive. Alabama should:

  • Provide health coverage for adults with low incomes by expanding Medicaid. This single step would facilitate more COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccination; increase worker health and productivity; and strengthen Alabama’s health care system, especially rural hospitals. Lawmakers’ rush to immunize businesses against pandemic-related claims only makes the need for worker protections like health coverage more urgent.
  • Expand use of telehealth services by means of universal broadband access and provider incentives.
  • Identify and address health disparities. Adopt a rigorous data collection program across state agencies to identify health outcome disparities related to race/ethnicity, income and geography. Engage research universities and state health agencies in developing and implementing a strategic plan for reducing targeted health disparities.
  • Support community health. Develop and implement a strategic plan for linking underserved communities with health care by means of community health workers. Alabama is one of just three states that have not defined a role for community health workers in the state health care system, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. Our state’s failure to act is depriving underserved communities not only of improved health services and outcomes but also job creation and economic development.
  • Promote community-based participatory research to increase chronic and infectious disease awareness, preventive behaviors and health equity.
In focus

Powering up for recovery: The vaccine trust factor

If we’re smart, the links between social justice and health that the pandemic is exposing will improve our chances for beating it. All eyes are on vaccine distribution. Immunizing Alabama against COVID-19 is a matter not just of coordinating vaccine delivery and covering costs, but also building trust.

Alabama had mixed success with the adoption of protective equipment and protocols to mitigate COVID-19’s spread during most of 2020. Similar resistance to accepting the vaccine could delay our state’s economic recovery even further.

Understanding the relative influences of skepticism and lack of information and access on vaccine participation warrants further research. But Alabama’s public health legacy – and living memory – adds a painful dimension to this issue. In the home state of the racist and deadly Tuskegee syphilis experiment,[25] public health officials have a long way to go to win the full confidence of communities long betrayed.[26]

Nationally, Black Americans are significantly less likely than white people to get the annual flu vaccine.[27] This fact raises the stakes for a new vaccination campaign. A 2020 CDC study found that Hispanic/Latinx adults had lower flu vaccine uptake than any other racial/ethnic group.[28] People with disabilities also have shown lower flu vaccine participation.[29] And a recent study found that unemployed Americans were less likely to receive the flu vaccine and also less likely to say they would accept a COVID-19 vaccine.[30]

We have to make sure – and make clear – that Alabama’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our plans for recovery take all segments of our population into equal account. The ADPH deserves applause for its efforts to account for racial inequities by partnering with historically Black colleges and universities and other Black-led institutions and networks in its COVID-19 vaccination planning.

Public health funding cuts haunt Alabama

Despite this collaborative approach, though, the state’s vaccination rollout got off to a troubled start. Inadequate vaccine supplies only compounded the challenge of conducting a massive public health campaign with a system undermined by chronic budget cuts. In 2019, Alabama’s state-administered county health departments operated at 65% of the professional staffing they had in 2010.[31]

The ADPH’s phased vaccine distribution plan places front-line health care workers, first responders and support personnel (e.g., hospital janitorial and medical transportation services) at the “head of the line” in Phase 1a for receiving the vaccine, along with residents and staff of nursing facilities.[32] These initial target populations are easy to identify, but some of the targets for Phases 1b and 1c – people with age- and health-related risk factors – will be more challenging to reach.

Community outreach and referral will play a critical role in successful implementation of these phases. Phase 1b also targets front-line essential workers, who are comparatively easy to identify and reach. But both this phase and the later Phases 1c and 2 include industries and general population groups that will require diversified and sustained communications and engagement.

Medicaid expansion would help ensure Alabama is prepared for the next pandemic

The COVID-19 vaccine will pose numerous logistical and economic challenges. Getting ahead of those challenges will be a key part of strengthening Alabama’s workforce as our state recovers. Let’s bring more than 340,000 Alabamians into a health care system that can provide them with accurate information, encourage them to get vaccinated and pay the cost when they do. And let’s make sure the pandemic and its associated recession don’t break our hospitals and our communities.

That’s the kind of heavy lifting Medicaid expansion was made for. Medicaid expansion is a tool for removing barriers, improving health outcomes and saving lives. Now, of all times, why aren’t we using it?


The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard, https://alpublichealth.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/6d2771faa9da4a2786a509d82c8cf0f7.

[2] Ibid.

[3] John Elflein, “Death rates from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the United States,” Statista (accessed Feb. 16, 2021), https://www.statista.com/statistics/1109011/coronavirus-covid19-death-rates-us-by-state.

[4] Bama Tracker, Alabama COVID-19 Deaths, https://bamatracker.com/chart/deaths (reflecting cumulative + probable COVID-19 deaths).

[5] Congressional Research Service, American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics (updated July 29, 2020), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf; Statista, “U.S. military fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, by state” (accessed Feb. 16, 2021), https://www.statista.com/statistics/303472/us-military-fatalities-in-iraq-and-afghanistan.

[6] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups” (updated July 24, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html.

[7] Alabama Department of Public Health, Laboratory-Confirmed COVID-19 Case Characteristics (April 7, 2020), https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/assets/cov-al-cases-040820.pdf.

[8] Hye Jin Rho, Hayley Brown & Shawn Fremstad, “A Basic Demographic Profile of Workers in Frontline Industries,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (April 7, 2020), https://cepr.net/a-basic-demographic-profile-of-workers-in-frontline-industries.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Employer-Sponsored Coverage Rates for the Nonelderly by Race/Ethnicity” (2019), https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/nonelderly-employer-coverage-rate-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D.

[11] Ibid.

[12] David J. Becker, “Medicaid Expansion in Alabama: Revisiting the Economic Case for Expansion,” University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, Department of Health Care Organization and Policy (Jan. 31, 2019), https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/72a465_8f37c24eeccf4e15bc6b2b97c00c3922.pdf.

[13] Alabama Arise, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, “Section 1 – How does Medicaid work in Alabama?” (June 17, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/resources/medicaid-matters-section-1-how-does-medicaid-work-in-alabama.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Alabama Arise, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, “Section 3 – Who’s still left out of health coverage in Alabama?” (June 17, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/resources/medicaid-matters-section-3-whos-still-left-out-of-health-coverage.

[16] Alabama Arise, Medicaid Matters: Charting the Course to a Healthier Alabama, “Section 4 – How can we make Alabama healthier?” (June 17, 2020), https://www.alarise.org/resources/medicaid-matters-section-4-how-can-we-make-alabama-healthier.

[17] U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 1, April 23 – July 21, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase1.

[18] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 2, Aug. 19 – Oct. 26, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase2.

[19] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html.

[20] Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, supra note 17.

[21] Arise analysis, supra note 18.

[22] Becker, supra note 12.

[23] Carol Gundlach, “How the state grocery tax hurts struggling Alabamians,” Alabama Arise (Feb. 22, 2019), https://www.alarise.org/resources/how-the-state-grocery-tax-hurts-struggling-alabamians.

[24] Kaiser Family Foundation, “Status of State Medicaid Expansion Decisions: Interactive Map” (updated Feb. 12, 2021), https://www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/status-of-state-medicaid-expansion-decisions-interactive-map.

[25] Tuskegee University, “About the USPHS Syphilis Study,” https://www.tuskegee.edu/about-us/centers-of-excellence/bioethics-center/about-the-usphs-syphilis-study.

[26] Reuben C. Warren, Lachlan Forrow, David Augustin Hodge, Sr. & Robert D. Truog, “Trustworthiness before Trust – Covid-19 Vaccine Trials and the Black Community, New England Journal of Medicine (Nov. 26, 2020), https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp2030033.

[27] Sandra Crouse Quinn, “African American adults and seasonal influenza vaccination: Changing our approach can move the needle,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (Nov. 17, 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5861789.

[28] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Influenza (Flu) General Population Vaccination Coverage” (Oct. 1, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/flu/fluvaxview/coverage-1920estimates.htm.

[29] Jenny O’Neill, Fiona Newall, Giuliana Antolovich, Sally Lima & Margie Danchin, “Vaccination in people with disabilities: a review,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (July 24, 2019), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7012164.

[30] Amyn A. Malik, SarahAnn M. McFadden, Jad Elharake & Saad B. Omer, “Determinants of Covid-19 vaccine acceptance in the US,” The Lancet (Aug. 12, 2020), https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(20)30239-X/fulltext.

[31] Arian Campo-Flores, “Why Alabama Has the Worst Covid-19 Vaccination Rates,” Wall Street Journal (Feb. 11, 2021), https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-alabama-has-the-worst-covid-19-vaccination-rates-11613048418.

[32] Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama COVID-19 Vaccination Allocation Plan (updated Jan. 29, 2021), https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19vaccine/assets/adph-covid19-vaccination-allocation-plan.pdf.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 6 – The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic

State of Working Alabama logo

The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to widespread hunger in Alabama. We all have seen the pictures – lines of cars stretching for blocks waiting to receive an emergency food box, desperate appeals from food banks that distributed as much food in the first six months of the pandemic as they did in the prior year, school buses filled with lunches for delivery to hungry children unable to go to school in person. Facebook pages have sprung up to offer desperately needed peer advice on how to navigate the food assistance system.

Hunger is an ugly public face of this pandemic and its associated recession. Amid persistent job and income losses, hundreds of thousands of Alabama families are struggling to keep food on the table.

Where are we now?

In the spring/early summer stage of the pandemic (late April until late July 2020), 12% of all Alabama families and 13% of Alabama families with children either sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.[1] And the hunger challenges were much more serious in communities of color. Nearly 19% of Hispanic/Latinx Alabamians and 21% of Black Alabamians said they didn’t have enough food, compared to slightly more than 8% of white Alabamians.[2]

 

Black and Hispanic Alabamians were more likely to experience hunger early in the pandemic. In the spring/early summer stage, 21% of Black residents and 18.9% of Hispanic/Latinx residents said they didn't have enough food, compared to 8.4% of white residents.

How did we get here?

Unequal job losses have led to increased hunger. Between mid-August and late October (the late summer/fall stage of the pandemic), one in five Alabamians who reported income loss said they either sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat.[3] This includes a third of the people who reported losing their jobs due to pandemic-related layoffs, plus another third – mostly women – who wanted to return to work but couldn’t because they were caring for children whose schools or day cares were closed due to the pandemic.[4]

The Household Pulse Survey shows both the value and the limitations of critical safety net programs. Nearly three in four (or 74%) of Alabamians who used unemployment insurance (UI) benefits were able to afford their basic food needs during the late summer/fall stage of the pandemic, as were 78% of people who used federal stimulus payments to make ends meet.[5] Two in three Alabamians who received food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) said they had enough food.[6]

High demand at food banks shows need to strengthen nutrition assistance

These and other safety net programs have eased suffering for hundreds of thousands of Alabamians during the pandemic. Even so, significant numbers of people still reported they didn’t have enough to eat.

Revealing the limitations of the safety net, tens of thousands of Alabamians also used emergency food programs and free school meals to feed their families. The week before Thanksgiving, 10% of Pulse Survey respondents in Alabama said they still relied on free groceries in the last week.[7] The largest share of people who relied on emergency food received it from Alabama’s food banks or faith-based and community food pantries (61%), followed by school-based or other programs that provided food to children (31%) and family or friends (27%).[8]

Food banks and other sources of emergency food play a vital role feeding hungry families. But these programs simply cannot meet the scale of need that the COVID-19 recession has caused.

What should we do now?

The state and federal governments can make a number of important public policy changes to help feed Alabama families during this difficult time and beyond:

  • Alabama lawmakers should abandon efforts to slash the state’s safety net. The COVID-19 recession has taught many painful lessons about the critical role that safety net programs play during a crisis. Legislators should resist the temptation to introduce and pass bills restricting access to SNAP and other safety net programs. If enacted in past years, these bills would have made the recent hunger and hardship in Alabama even more dire.
  • The state departments of Education and Human Resources should move quickly to implement P-EBT for the 2020-21 school year. When schools closed, Congress created the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program, which provided debit-like cards with enough money on them to replace the value of lost school meals. Lawmakers later expanded this program in a continuing resolution in September. Now Alabama needs to distribute these desperately needed benefits rapidly to families whose children are going to school remotely or who are in hybrid classrooms.
  • Eligible schools in Alabama should reduce childhood hunger by participating in the Community Eligibility Provision for the 2021-22 school year. Community eligibility allows eligible schools to serve meals at no cost to all enrolled students, streamlining the usual paperwork. Participation in community eligibility automatically makes children eligible for P-EBT. And it eases logistical barriers for schools to provide free meals to children who are attending school remotely.
  • Congress should move quickly to pass another COVID-19 relief bill that further increases federal UI benefits and SNAP assistance. The bill also should provide additional cash assistance for struggling families, including relief payments, a fully refundable Child Tax Credit and an increased Earned Income Tax Credit.

The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)
Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19 (Section 7)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 1, April 23 – July 21, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Household Pulse Survey, Phase 2, Aug. 19 – Oct. 26, 2020, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/data.html#phase2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Id.

[7] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Week 19 Household Pulse Survey: Nov. 11 – Nov. 23, Food Sufficiency and Food Security Table 2b, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2020/demo/hhp/hhp19.html.

[8] Ibid.

The State of Working Alabama 2021, Section 7 – No place to call home: Housing insecurity amid COVID-19

State of Working Alabama logo

Where are we now?

More than 800,000 job losses in the first eight months of the pandemic caused Alabamians severe economic damage and heightened insecurity. Thousands of Alabamians face potential eviction and homelessness as a result of the pandemic. And unfortunately, the state’s recent scattershot approach to eviction policy has resulted in inconsistent protection for renters across Alabama.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s initial eviction emergency order provided broad protections against eviction, directing all law enforcement personnel to cease “enforcement of any order that would result in the displacement of a person from his or her place of residence.”[1]

This proclamation faced immediate attempts to chip away its broad protections. A second emergency proclamation on May 8 limited the protections significantly by allowing evictions for all reasons except nonpayment of rent specifically.[2] This modification was a major limitation that cut against the original order’s basic purpose: to reduce health risks to Alabamians by preventing homelessness and forced moves into crowded group housing settings with many other people.

Further, allowing evictions for all reasons except nonpayment allowed landlords to put people on the streets for reasons unrelated to public safety, even though the stated reason for limiting protections was to ensure public safety. For example, a person could be evicted for allowing family members not named on the lease to move in after those family members had themselves lost housing.

State eviction safeguards gone; housing instability remains

The near-shutdown of state courts in early spring 2020 greatly slowed the pace of eviction proceedings for months in Alabama.[3] But administrative difficulties are not a reliable brake on policies designed to punish poverty. And worse, Ivey’s eviction protection order expired in June, leaving no state-level eviction protections in place thereafter.[4]

Alabamians have high rates of housing instability. As recently as the week before Thanksgiving, nearly 13% of Alabamians who responded to the Household Pulse Survey said they either missed their previous rent or mortgage payment or had little confidence they would make their next payment.[5]

 

Black and Hispanic Alabamians face greater risk of eviction for inability to pay rent during the pandemic. Black residents are 26.8% of Alabama's population but are 54.2% of the Alabama renters facing eviction. For Hispanic/Latinx residents, the corresponding rates are 4.6% and 8.1%. For white residents, the rates are 69.1% and 36.5%.

How did we get here?

Housing costs are a heightened burden for Alabamians with low incomes even in more normal times. Full-time work at the minimum wage is insufficient to afford a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the state.[6] A minimum-wage worker would need to work 12 hours a day, seven days a week to afford such an apartment.

Alabama’s shortage of affordable housing causes significant harm for tens of thousands of state residents. The state lacks nearly 80,000 affordable homes for people with extremely low incomes, defined as 30% of area median income or lower.[7] More than three in four of these Alabamians are seniors, people with disabilities and/or in the workforce.[8]

Long-term failure to invest in affordable housing has brought Alabama to this point. The state has a mechanism, created in 2012, to address the housing shortage: the Alabama Housing Trust Fund (AHTF).[9] But the Legislature has never appropriated funding for the AHTF. During the pandemic-shortened 2020 regular session, a bill to fund the AHTF through a small increase in the mortgage recording fee for housing purchases advanced out of committee. But the Legislature adjourned without passing the bill.

What should we do now?

Alabama can take steps to fix this policy shortcoming quickly. And addressing the state’s housing shortage would bring significant benefits. State investment in affordable housing would create jobs with good wages. Construction workers in Alabama make about $43,000 per year, just $5,000 short of the median household wage.[10]

Even though the federal moratorium on many evictions has been extended through March 2021,[11] a state-level eviction moratorium is still needed to ensure the well-being of thousands of Alabamians. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium requires renters to file paperwork with their landlords attesting to their inability to pay because of COVID-19. This requirement is readily abusable by unscrupulous landlords, who could make themselves unavailable for service and assert failure to provide notice. Those landlords also could falsely claim not to have received the notice.

A blanket state eviction moratorium (with an exception for people posing serious danger to others) would be a better solution. It would avoid an administrative burden on renters already experiencing financial hardship. And it would prevent rental companies from potentially abusing the CDC’s notice requirement.

A policy path to keep Alabamians housed

To ensure everyone has a place to call home during the pandemic and beyond, Alabama should:

  • Reinstitute eviction protections for the duration of the pandemic for all people who are not a danger to others.
  • Provide direct housing subsidies to renters impacted by COVID-19. This assistance would help people remain in their homes and help smaller landlords cover their mortgages and other expenses.
  • Provide adequate appropriations to support affordable housing in Alabama. The state should dedicate a substantial source of funding, such as the recently proposed increase in the mortgage recording fee, to providing affordable housing. At current housing prices, a mortgage recording fee increase of just 15 cents per $100 financed would provide more than $14 million yearly toward addressing the housing needs of Alabamians.
  • Halt utility cutoffs and begin reporting data on shutoffs for nonpayment. Cutting off water and power to people during a pandemic because of nonpayment is cruel and counterproductive. These cutoffs increase human suffering and limit people’s ability to protect themselves against the spread of coronavirus. Alabama needs to collect more data about the scope of these shutoffs and craft policies to make them less prevalent.

The State of Working Alabama 2021

The State of Working Alabama 2021: Executive summary
Introduction: The high cost of failing to protect the common good (Section 1)
Unequal by design: COVID-19 and Alabama’s policy legacy (Section 2)
Assessing the damage: COVID-19 and Alabama’s labor market (Section 3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Praised but underprotected: Front-line workers in the pandemic (Section 4)
Why coverage matters: Health care in the time of COVID-19 (Section 5)
The ugly reality: Alabama’s hunger problem during the pandemic (Section 6)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Footnotes

[1] State of Alabama, Proclamation by the Governor (April 3, 2020), https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/legal/assets/proclamation-covid19-040320.pdf.

[2] State of Alabama, Proclamation by the Governor (May 8, 2020), https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/legal/assets/soe-covid19-various-050820.pdf.

[3] Supreme Court of Alabama, Administrative Order Suspending All In-Person Court Proceedings for the Next Thirty Days (March 13, 2020), https://www.alacourt.gov/docs/COV-19%20order%20FINAL.pdf.

[4] Moriah Mason, “The federal eviction moratorium has been extended, but is it enough?,” Alabama Political Reporter (Jan. 28, 2021), https://www.alreporter.com/2021/01/28/the-federal-eviction-moratorium-has-been-extended-but-is-it-enough.

[5] Alabama Arise analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, Week 19 Household Pulse Survey: Nov. 11 – Nov. 23, https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2020/demo/hhp/hhp19.html.

[6] National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2020, Alabama data sheet, https://reports.nlihc.org/sites/default/files/oor/files/reports/state/AL-2020-OOR.pdf.

[7] National Low Income Housing Coalition, Housing Needs by State – Alabama (2020), https://nlihc.org/housing-needs-by-state/alabama.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Carol Gundlach, “Home at last: The Alabama Housing Trust Fund (2015 update),” Alabama Arise (Nov. 3, 2015), https://www.alarise.org/resources/home-at-last-the-alabama-housing-trust-fund-2015-update.

[10] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2019 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates – Alabama (March 31, 2020), https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_al.htm.

[11] Mason, supra note 4.

Arise legislative recap: Feb. 16, 2021

Arise executive director Robyn Hyden breaks down the first two weeks in the Alabama Legislature’s 2021 regular session and outlines Arise’s goals for this session. Legislators have prioritized protecting corporations over workers so far this month, even as hundreds of thousands of Alabamians continue to struggle with hunger and hardship during the COVID-19 recession.