Unemployment declines – small businesses, poorest residents still struggle
Published 1:00 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023
Alabama’s unemployment rate is down, and Governor Kay Ivey says the decline is noteworthy.
“When Alabama works, Alabama families thrive and records are broken time and time again,” said Ivey.
The Alabama Department of Labor (DOL) released data showing the state’s April unemployment rate is 2.2% compared to the March rate of 2.3%.
Ivey said, “We have a quick growing economy, and we are leading the game when it comes to economic success. Boasting the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast, Alabama is well on its way to having the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.”
The jobless rate in Butler County in April was 2.2% down from 2.3% in March. Reverend Allen Stephenson, president of the Butler Ministerial Association, says there remains a need to help unemployed and underemployed people in many communities.
“What we do is that we work with the Department of Human Resources in Butler County when a person is unemployed or they have had a tragedy in their family and they can’t pay their utility bills,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson said the Department of Human Resources (DHR) in Butler County helps identify people in need, but the funding for the program is covered through donations from businesses, other churches, and individuals wanting to help.
In spite of the decrease in unemployment numbers, he said the association has had an increase in the number of clients coming to his facility needing help. “We get requests almost every week. It began with the cold snap that we had earlier this year when people fell behind on their power bills and couldn’t catch up.
“We have situations where someone might have lost their job or for whatever reason they can’t pay their utilities this month or something. We have a tremendous number of people in this county who are working paycheck to paycheck, and if something gets out of line with their payment schedules then it throws everything behind. We see a lot of that. Of course, we also see a lot of people who won’t work and won’t pay their bills. They just call from agency to agency seeking help.”
Stephenson said his group offers counseling to residents on budgeting and finding better options for necessary services.
“If someone is paying $800 a month for rent and receives 400 a month, for example, from social security, then we have a problem. The problem is some people are living above their means,” Stephenson said.
Regardless of the situation, Stephenson said there is a charge among his faith to continue their work.
“The need is great, but the funds are few,” he said. “We don’t ever pay anybody’s entire bill because if we did, we would run out of money. We are basically there to help people get over a rough spot, and we can usually only help them once a year.”
In Lowndes County, the unemployment rate for April was 3.2 percent, down from 3.6% in March. One of the organizations helping individuals needing jobs, clothing, and food in Lowndes County is the Edmundite Missions Good Shepherd Center.
Kendale Stewart is the assistant program director for the Good Shepherd Community Center which provides food, pays utilities, gives clothing, and offers job training.
“We have a workforce development program that helps residents with resume writing, taking interviews, and applying for jobs,” Stewart said. “We will soon offer job training in carpentry, becoming an electrician, and general labor training. We also work with people who can’t seem to maintain a job, so we work in the area of job retention.”
Alabama Arise Communications Director Chris Sanders says the declining unemployment rates are good, but more is needed.
“Low unemployment rates are good news for families and communities across the Black Belt and across Alabama. But state officials still have important work to do to support workers and remove structural barriers that force many Alabamians out of the job market,” said Sanders. Sanders said there are circumstances to consider when reviewing the data.
“Alabama is a state full of hard workers. But for decades, Alabama also has had one of the country’s lowest shares of working-age people who are either working or looking for work. This low labor force participation rate is because many Alabamians who would like to work cannot, due to health problems or financial barriers like lack of childcare or transportation,” Sanders stated.
Crenshaw County’s jobless rate for April was down 1.7% from 1.9% in March but for some small business owners in the tri-county area, the declining unemployment rate isn’t easing the problems finding and keeping employees.
Corinna Davis has owned Coco Momma’s Fine Dining in Highland Home for about seven years, and she is also the owner of the Rooster in the Road boutique since 2017.
Davis said she struggles finding workers for her businesses.
“It is difficult to find workers who have open availability which means being able to work the hours that I need, versus the hours that they want to work,” Davis said. “Qualified workers don’t want to have to work on weekends or nights. It used to be that if someone wanted a job, then they would work the hours required versus saying I can only work this time or that time.”
Davis said her husband’s construction business operates traditional Monday through Friday work days, so it is easier for him to find employees.
“But in the retail or hospitality industry, for the last five years or so, I’ve had a problem finding employees,” Davis said.
According to DOL reports, with the decline in the state’s unemployment numbers comes the news that employed workers are taking more home in each paycheck.
“Wages have yet again set a new record high, rising by more than $30 a week since last month alone. More money in the pocks of Alabamians is always a good thing”, said Alabama DOL Secretary Fitzgerald Washington.
Alabama Counties with the lowest unemployment rates are: Shelby County at 1.3%, Morgan, Marshall, Madison and Cullman Counties at 1.4% and St. Clair, Limestone, Lawrence, Elmore and Blount Counties at 1.5%. Counties with the highest unemployment rates are: Wilcox County at 6.0%, Greene County at 4.0% and Clarke County at 3.7%.
For more information about Alabama’s unemployment figures, you may visit