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New ACHE data designed to ‘zone in’ on areas’ education, workforce needs

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

There are 2.5 million people age 25 to 64 in Alabama and 725,449 of them, nearly 29%, aren’t in the labor force, according to new data from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

In some regions of the state, the percentage of working-age people outside the workforce is even higher, according to the new Education and Workforce Needs Index created by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

The national average is 22.3%.

“To me, that’s a wake up call for all of us,” ACHE Executive Director Jim Purcell told Alabama Daily News recently.

The report breaks the state into seven previously established workforce regions. Purcell and Patrick Kelly, ACHE’s assistant director of workforce alignment, agree that there is a ton of data available on workforce and education in the state. Their goal in creating the index is to highlight about a dozen metrics, including educational attainment and labor force participation, that if targeted in an area could improve education and workforce levels and ultimately improve lives.

“The purpose of this is to focus our efforts,” Kelly recently said when presenting information to the ACHE board.

The data, derived from 2019 census information, also shows Alabama has a higher percentage, 12.1%, of working-age people on Social Security and welfare than the national average, 8.5%.

The large group of adults not in the workforce includes 128,741 people in families with higher than median incomes and 255,016 people who get more than half their income from welfare or Social Security benefits. They’re not likely to fully participate in the workforce, Kelly said.

That leaves more than 300,000 people who could be reached for educational and work force participation.

Some of them aren’t working because the cost of doing so— including child care — doesn’t make financial sense. 

“Where do we need to zone in and help people have the capabilities to be self-sustaining as a family and develop economic prosperity for our communities,” Purcell said.

State officials last week announced a record low unemployment rate: 2.8%. That represents 61,621 unemployed people searching for work. Employers need more than that and the state still has a pre-pandemic goal of adding 500,000 newly certified workers to the labor pool by 2025.

“We have to have jobs in which families can live on and there are ways to do that,” Purcell said.

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