Greater Birmingham has experienced a resurgence in economic growth and civic engagement in recent years. But the benefits of this prosperity are not widely shared among everyone living in the region – and a new comprehensive report that Alabama Arise and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) released Thursday shows that people across Jefferson County know it.
The report, Homecoming: The Greater Birmingham Community Speaks on Regional Cooperation and a More Inclusive Economy, includes a professional survey of 1,024 residents of the Greater Birmingham area conducted this year. Three in four residents said the region’s economic resources are not distributed fairly. And only one in four said they are personally included in the Birmingham area’s economic revival.
Economic opportunity and financial vulnerability across Greater Birmingham vary widely by race, gender and geography, the report finds. Homecoming highlights the critical problems facing the region’s residents – and the solutions they want to see. The report defines Greater Birmingham as Jefferson County, the City of Birmingham and 33 other municipalities within Jefferson County.
“The results of this comprehensive study of the issues facing Greater Birmingham residents speak volumes, especially in the wake of the results of the midterms, about where communities stand on the major issues that impact not only Alabama, but our country as a whole,” said Marc Bayard, associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and the report’s co-author.
“Alabama’s economy is growing, but ordinary people aren’t seeing the same changes to their bottom line. We see the real-life effects of economic and racial inequality, and we also see the profound need for change in how the government responds to the most urgent needs and concerns of Alabama residents.”
Policies to promote broadly shared prosperity
The study includes a professional survey of 1,024 Greater Birmingham residents conducted in 2022. It focuses on ensuring broad representation across race, gender, political ideology and geography.
“Too many people are being left behind in Birmingham’s economy these days. The region needs broadly shared prosperity that creates good jobs that provide a living wage and upward mobility,” said Allan M. Freyer, Ph.D., visiting fellow with Alabama Arise and the report’s lead author.
“Our study provides local governments across the Birmingham area with a toolbox of potential strategies for promoting equitable economic growth that benefits everyone. Better transit, access to healthy foods, affordable housing, accountability for development projects, and more local authority are the key to a more prosperous, thriving region.”
- Two-thirds of survey respondents identified transportation – especially lack of public transit – as the top challenge facing Greater Birmingham. The region is one of the country’s most auto-dependent metro areas.
- More than 55% of residents cited lack of access to healthy food in certain neighborhoods as a significant problem.
- Almost 80% of respondents identified rising housing costs as a problem. Another 73% said the same about the overall lack of affordable housing.
- More than 73% of survey respondents rated lack of good jobs as at least somewhat of a problem. This included 82% of Black respondents and 62% of white respondents.
- Nearly 60% of respondents said gaining access to job training programs is a challenge, and those fortunate enough to complete these programs might not find available jobs calling for their new skills.
- More than 60% saw child care as a significant challenge for the region’s economy.
- More than three-quarters of residents want their local government to ensure companies create the jobs they promise in exchange for public subsidies or tax incentives – and require those jobs to pay living wages.
- A supermajority of residents (nearly three in four) oppose preemption (through which states can limit the authority of local governments) and support home rule (where localities are relatively autonomous). Large majorities of Black and white residents alike said local governments should be able to set their own minimum wage.
“Hope for a brighter future is a value shared by people of every race and in every part of the Greater Birmingham area,” Alabama Arise executive director Robyn Hyden said. “For prosperity to be shared more broadly, residents are telling us we need to invest in recruiting high-quality, better-paying jobs. We can support workers in getting to those jobs with better public transportation and stronger investments in child care and affordable housing.”
To capture a range of ideas and perspectives effectively, the Arise and IPS report:
- Commissioned a professional survey in 2022 of 1,024 Greater Birmingham residents. The goal was to understand the challenges residents are facing and the policy solutions they support.
- Conducted 12 focus groups with key categories of stakeholders to learn more about the biggest challenges facing Greater Birmingham residents. Researchers engaged approximately 80 people, including corporate leaders, business owners, faith leaders across the racial spectrum, grassroots activists, leaders of women’s groups, youth development groups, and other nonprofit leaders working in various aspects of equitable development across the area.
- Conducted two dozen one-on-one interviews with community leaders to hear their concerns and proposed solutions. These included staff at local governments, regional foundations, regionwide civic initiatives, grassroots activists, policy advocates, nonprofit leaders, neighborhood association presidents and local developers.