An Op-Ed from Alabama Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington
January 30, 2019
As we reflect on the ending of yet another year, and step out into the new one, we here at the Alabama Department of Labor are thankful to begin 2019 with high hopes for continued economic prosperity. Each year, I look back at what we’ve accomplished in the previous year, and set goals for the upcoming one.
And what a year we had in 2018! In my years as Secretary of Labor, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a year with so many records broken. In fact, we broke some records so many times that I was afraid we were sounding like a broken record! But that’s a great position to be in. We all remember the harshness of the great recession, only a few years ago. No one wants to relive those days.
For years, we talked about how reaching the “magic” number of two million wage and salary jobs (the number of jobs our economy supports) would be as close to “full employment” as anyone would acknowledge. Well, we broke that threshold back in 2017, and it’s only gotten better since. Preliminary records indicate that in 2018, we broke the previous record SIX months out of the year, ending with December’s current record high of 2,072,600. Which represents yet another record…2.2% job growth from December 2017 to December 2018 – which, by the way, surpassed the nation’s job growth for the same period. Never in history has Alabama supported this many jobs – a gain of nearly 45,000! To even come close to matching 2018’s jobs numbers, you’d have to go way back to 2007, to pre-recessionary Alabama, when the old record of 2,045,800 was set.
Economists predicted we would gain 27,000 jobs for all of 2018. We blew that number out of the water, beating it by 17,300. This is the third year in a row we’ve exceeded those expectations. In Alabama, businesses are hiring, and it shows in the numbers. In addition to announcements made almost weekly about new companies and industries coming to the state, our existing businesses are continuing to expand and hire. JobLink (joblink.alabama.gov), the state’s free online jobs database, registered 224,724 job orders last year. April 2018 saw the most orders, with 20,420 placed in that month alone. Compare that to the lowest number recorded during the recession – 3,470 in November 2009, and you’ll see just how far we’ve come.
In addition to job growth, we saw record numbers of Alabamians working. December 2018 registered the most people working in history, clocking in at 2,130,194, closing out SEVEN consecutive months of record-breaking highs, and a full year of consecutive increases in employment. Nearly 50,000 more Alabamians were working in December of 2018 than were a year ago. That’s 50,000 more paychecks, 50,000 more families with incomes, and 50,000 more opportunities for citizens to spend money in our economy.
Our unemployment rate responded to this growth by reaching its lowest rate in history, 3.7%, in both January and February. Increases in the civilian labor force led to small increases in the rate throughout the year, but these increases were due to good reasons – more people were joining the workforce and believed they would get jobs, and they DID. In 2018, more people were in the workforce than there were in the past seven years. When you get significant increases in the civilian labor force, you can see slight increases in the unemployment rate. Even so, we closed out the year at 3.9%, which was on par with the national rate. Additionally, our annual average unemployment rate was 4.0%, which was below 2017’s annual average of 4.4%, showing annual improvement in that measurement as well.
Driving Alabama’s job growth in 2018 are increases in the professional and business services sector, which include fields like engineering, management, and computer design, and in the manufacturing sector. Professional and business services saw its highest levels of employment in history in 2018, with eight months of the year breaking previous sector employment records. Manufacturing, which gained more than 11,000 jobs in 2018, saw the most people working in the industry in over a decade! Earnings followed suit, with total private weekly earnings rising to $857.77, the highest in history! Four sectors: goods producing, manufacturing, financial activities, and professional and business services also saw their highest earnings in history.
Even though we announced all this good news this year, we can’t forget that there are still Alabamians who need our help. Even though more people are working than ever before, there are still more than 80,000 Alabamians who aren’t. That’s why we work with Governor Kay Ivey and her administration to ensure that those people aren’t forgotten. Our mission is to connect every Alabamian who wants a job, WITH a job, and we don’t ever forget it.
There are many programs available to assist those who are looking for work, or looking to change jobs. From on-the-job training to apprenticeships, to educational assistance and interview techniques, those interested can find free, one-on-one assistance at any of our 49 career centers located throughout the state. We can also help employers with tax credits, salary reimbursement, and employee screening. If you don’t know about all the services our career centers offer, then I’d invite you to come check us out. We’d be glad to have you!
Here’s to a great 2019!
Secretary, Alabama Department of Labor