The State of Working Alabama 2023

Cover for State of Working Alabama

Since the 1990s, Alabama has bet big on the auto industry. It has been a high-stakes effort to rebuild the state’s economy around high-wage manufacturing, raise the wages of Alabama’s workers and reduce the economic distress so prevalent across the state. A quarter-century after the first M-Class rolled off the Mercedes-Benz assembly line in Vance, now is the time to evaluate how that bet turned out – who benefited and by how much.

The 2023 edition of The State of Working Alabama assesses the results of the drive to bring the automotive manufacturing industry to Alabama. In A Wheel in the Ditch: A Closer Look at Alabama’s Big Bet on the Auto Manufacturing Industry, Alabama Arise analyzes the industry’s rapid growth over the past two decades, and the ways in which it has met or fallen short of its potential. Our report shows the heavy use of tax incentives in our state’s economic development strategy. It also reveals how a worker-focused development strategy would bring better results than the company-focused strategy that Alabama has prioritized.

Our report lays out shortcomings in pay for the same duties that workers perform in other states. It reveals instances of unfair worker treatment and a lack of workplace equity across racial and gender demographics. And it shows the massive economic benefits of creating a more equitable structure for our state’s auto industry.

This report recommends numerous policy changes, including many that autoworkers directly urged, to help fix these industry-wide shortcomings. These recommendations would bring compensation and job quality in Alabama’s auto manufacturing sector up to parity with national standards. They would position our state to reap even larger rewards from its big bet on the auto industry. And they would help build a more inclusive and prosperous future for every Alabamian.

News release and full report

Use the links in the table of contents below to navigate through the online report. Near the bottom of each section page, you will find icons that link to the other sections of the report.

Read our news release on The State of Working Alabama 2023 here.

Download a PDF copy of The State of Working Alabama 2023 here. You also can access the PDF by clicking the “Download” button at the top of the page.

Table of contents

Section 1: Introduction

  • A wheel in the ditch: Auto industry pay, conditions decline despite economic impact
  • What can be done
  • How this paper is organized

Section 2: The high stakes and big bet on Alabama’s auto industry

  • The promise of Alabama’s auto industry
  • Alabama bets big on the auto industry
  • The stakes remain high

Section 3: The ways the bet on auto benefited Alabama

  • The auto industry anchored Alabama’s economic transformation

Section 4: A wheel in the ditch — Autoworkers see falling pay

  • Autoworkers get paid less today than 20 years ago
  • Autoworkers get paid less in Alabama than in the nation as a whole
  • Auto wages fall while corporate profits rise

Section 5: A wheel in the ditch — Pay gaps and occupational segregation

  • Men and white workers earn more than women and workers of color
  • Occupational segregation drives racial and gender pay gaps in the auto industry
  • Historical origins of occupational segregation and the auto industry wage gap

Section 6: A wheel in the ditch — Economic impact of falling wages and the pay gap

Section 7: A wheel in the ditch — Working conditions worsen

Section 8: The auto industry and Alabama’s low-road economic development approach

  • Over-reliance on the use of incentives to attract industry to the state
  • Lack of direct wage standards in incentive programs
  • Absence of labor protections under state law
  • The Alabama Jobs Act continues to fall short for workers
  • Organized labor is a missing piece and essential partner

Section 9: What we should do next

  • Recommendations for auto employers
  • Recommendations for policymakers
  • Organized labor: a vital partner

AppendixResearch design and methodology

  • How we define the auto industry
  • Data sources
  • Study period
  • Earnings analysis
  • Occupational segregation analysis
  • IMPLAN analysis


The State of Working Alabama 2023 is an Alabama Arise report made possible by generous support from the Economic Policy Institute’s EARN Worker Power Project. The findings and conclusions presented in this report are those of Alabama Arise and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other organization or person.


Dev Wakeley, J.D.
Worker policy advocate, Alabama Arise

Akiesha Anderson, J.D., MPA
Policy and advocacy director, Alabama Arise

Allan M. Freyer, Ph.D.
President, Peregrine Strategies, Inc.
Durham, N.C.


Allan M. Freyer, Ph.D.
President, Peregrine Strategies, Inc.
Durham, N.C.


Tori LaConsay
Atlanta, Ga.


Robyn Hyden
Executive director, Alabama Arise

Chris Sanders
Communications director, Alabama Arise

Matt Okarmus
Communications associate, Alabama Arise


The Economic Policy Institute’s EARN Worker Power Project
Washington, D.C.

In addition to the individuals and organizations listed above, Alabama Arise would like to thank our generous partners, donors, members and supporters for making this report possible.