MONTGOMERY, Ala. – According to a new survey released this week, just 18% of Alabamians aged 16 to 24 are employed, the lowest such rate in the nation.
Conducted by the Alabama Workforce Council and the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, the survey questioned 404 employed and unemployed youth between Aug. 3 and 21 and found that poverty-related barriers were the biggest factor in respondents’ inability to secure employment.
Despite the lowest-in-the-nation youth employment rate, nearly two-thirds of unemployed respondents said they were actively seeking work. Barriers like lack of access to transportation and fear of losing access to social safety programs like Medicaid ranked highest among respondents as reasons for failing to secure employment.
Of those surveyed, 37% said they had delayed starting a new job, accepting a new position under the same employer, or entering school or training out of fear of losing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. Often referred to as food stamps, SNAP assists more than 750,000 – or roughly one in seven – Alabamians, with recipients receiving an average of $242 a month in benefits.
When asked the same question, 52% delayed work, education or training out of fear of losing access to Medicaid, which in Alabama has among the strictest eligibility requirements in the country, though still assists more than 1.1 million Alabamians.
Transportation also played a major role in the state’s low youth unemployment rate, with nearly 60% of employed respondents having missed work due to their vehicle breaking down. Roughly a third of those employed said they have lost or quit a job due to transportation issues, and 13% said they had no reliable transportation to work whatsoever.
With the average price of vehicles reaching an all-time high, the Federal Reserve continuing to raise interest rates to 20-year highs, which often increase auto loan rates, and the median income for those 16 to 24 being around $37,300, transportation barriers for Alabama’s youth are likely to continue.
Alabama Works, a workforce development initiative launched by the AWC in 2015, established sites across the state to connect Alabamians with employment and workforce training opportunities, and while the program has seen some success, just one in five unemployed respondents were aware of the Alabama Works. At 16%, even fewer said they had ever used a career center, including 75% of those seeking work.
Around 60% of respondents said they would have utilized Alabama Works’ career and educational resources if they were aware of them. The survey identified websites like YouTube and social media platforms as the best method to grow awareness of various workforce development and educational programs among Alabama’s youth.
The Alabama Workforce Council is a public-private partnership organization that focuses on workforce development, whereas the Governor’s Office on Education and Workforce Transformation implements Gov. Kay Ivey’s Strong Start, Strong Finish education initiate and workforce development strategic plan by facilitating partnerships between workforce development and education entities across the state.