Many of the pathways Alabamians traditionally have used to get ahead have become more difficult to travel in the wake of the Great Recession, according to The State of Working Alabama 2011, a new Arise Citizens’ Policy Project report released today. Falling median household income, stagnating wages and soaring college costs have made it tougher to climb the economic ladder through hard work or education, the report finds.
ACPP executive director Kimble Forrister said the report reveals, in stark terms, many economic and systemic challenges that Alabama’s workers face in their efforts to create better lives. But he said the state can act now to reduce many of those barriers and to build a stronger foundation for future growth.
“Investing in Alabama today will make it easier for more of our people to achieve the American dream tomorrow,” Forrister said. “Education, health care and other public structures are the backbone of a strong economy, and our state must strengthen them to stay competitive in a fast-paced economy.”
A slightly lower unemployment rate was one of the few pieces of good news for Alabama in 2010, a year that left the state with higher poverty, more uninsured residents and lower median household income. The recession’s lingering effects hit especially hard among young Alabamians: One in four children lived in poverty in 2009-10, and nearly a quarter of Alabamians between the ages of 16 and 24 were unemployed.
Low- and middle-income workers face other challenges while trying to get ahead in Alabama, the report finds. The median cost of undergraduate tuition and fees at the state’s public four-year universities has nearly doubled since 2000-01, and partly as a result, the share of Alabamians with a four-year degree is falling further behind the national average. Alabama’s tax system also continues to require low- and middle-income residents to pay twice the share of their incomes in state and local taxes that the highest earners pay.
ACPP publishes The State of Working Alabama annually. The report uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other state and national sources to examine the economic condition of the state’s working families in 2011 along with historical trends.