Alabama County and MSA Population Trends

The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show continued strong growth in the Huntsville metropolitan statistical area (MSA), slightly positive growth in the Birmingham MSA, and slight declines in Mobile and Montgomery metro areas. For 2018, Huntsville’s growth rate ranks No. 64 out of the nation’s 383 metro area. But Alabama’s other large metros lag behind peers in terms of percentage change in population, with Birmingham ranked No. 251 out of 283, Mobile, 324, and Montgomery, 327.

Meanwhile, only 22 out of Alabama’s 67 counties added population in 2018. Most rural counties lost population, while most counties connected to a metro area gained. However, three of the four most populous counties home to the urban cores of the major metros areas — Jefferson, Montgomery, and Mobile — experienced net losses in 2018 as outmigration to surrounding suburban counties continued. Madison County, home to Huntsville continued to gain.

PARCA has updated its interactive maps and charts that allow users to explore local population changes and trends. PARCA tools for state-level population estimates were updated earlier this year. Estimates for cities will be released this summer.

Huntsville MSA

The Huntsville’s 462,693 person MSA includes Madison County, home to Huntsville (Pop. 366,519) and Limestone County (Pop. 96,174). Madison County is second only to Baldwin county in numeric population growth since 2010, and according to the estimates it added more people than ever in 2018, an estimated 4,854 in 2018. Limestone County is now the state’s second fastest growing county in percentage terms, adding 2,098 people in 2018.

Huntsville’s growth seems to be aiding population growth in other neighboring counties outside the Huntsville MSA. Marshall County has been steadily gaining population for most of the decade and now Morgan County, home to Decatur, has turned positive according to the estimates. That has caused the Decatur MSA to break a streak of population losses stretching back several years.

Birmingham-Hoover MSA

At 1.1 million and including seven counties, Birmingham’s MSA is more than double the population of second place Huntsville’s two-county MSA. In fact, Jefferson County, the central county of the Birmingham-Hoover MSA with 659,300 residents is significantly more populous

The estimates show Jefferson County with a slight loss in 2018, down 246 people. Since 2010, the estimates show Jefferson County with a net gain of 794 residents. Population change is driven by natural increase (births vs. deaths) and migration (net domestic migration plus net international migration). Jefferson County’s birth rate exceeds its death rate so the county adds people, 14,120 since 2010. But the county has a net outflow of residents moving elsewhere in the state or the country: 18,215 more people moved out than moved in. That would set the county up for net loss in population if it weren’t for a net inflow of international migrants. Jefferson County has added 5,335 of those since 2010, according to the estimates. While international in-migration has offset population loss in Jefferson County, and in other core counties as well, levels of international migration have dropped in the last two years.

Where are the leavers going? Adjacent Shelby and St. Clair Counties experienced net positive domestic migration adding 10,368 and 3,820 respectively since 2010. Walker, Blount, Bibb and Chilton County had more people moving out to other parts of the state or country than moving in according to the estimates. Blount and Chilton offset those losses with mild gains through natural increase and international migration. Walker and Bibb did not.

Mobile

With 413,757, residents Mobile is the state’s third largest MSA and it consists of a single county, Mobile, the state’s second most populous county. The federal government determines which counties are joined together in metro areas. Mobile County lies adjacent to the state’s fastest growing county, Baldwin. Despite the obvious connections between the two counties, the level of commuting between the two counties isn’t high enough for the federal government to consider them a single metro.

Mobile county’s population dynamics mirror Jefferson, with a net outflow of domestic migrants offset by a positive natural increase and international in migration.

Baldwin, on the other hand, is growing, like no other county in Alabama. It has added an estimated 35,758 residents since 2010. The county is also a metro area of its own, known as the Daphne-Fairhope metropolitan statistical area. What is driving growth: heavy domestic in-migration, particularly from individuals over the age of 60.

Samford University sociology professor Don Bradley has analyzed late-in-life migration for unpublished white paper commissioned by Where to Retire Magazine. In his review of Census data, Bradley found that Baldwin County was receiving 1,798 new residents over the age of 60 each year. That ranked Baldwin among the top 30 areas in the country for receiving persons 60 and over. That same elevated growth pattern can be seen in many coastal counties from North and South Carolina, and Florida, as well as retirement hotspots in Arizona and Nevada.

Montgomery MSA

Of the major metro areas, only Montgomery has seen a net population loss since 2010. Within the metro area, Montgomery County has lost an estimated 3,615 since 2010, and the slight gains in Elmore (2,594) and Autauga (1,027) have not been enough to offset the loss.


Smaller Metros

Perhaps influencing Montgomery’s population stagnation is the draw of Lee County, also known as the Auburn-Opelika MSA. It has the second fastest rate of growth and ranks third among Alabama MSAs in numeric growth, having added 23,641 residents since 2010.

In addition to the being home to Auburn University, Lee County lies between the two Korean automakers, Hyundai in Montgomery and Kia in West Point, GA. In terms of county growth, Lee’s neighboring county, Russell, is also adding residents at a healthy pace. Russell, home to Phenix City, is considered to be part of the Columbus, GA metro area, which has seen growth over the decade. The army base, Fort Benning, on the Alabama Georgia border is a major driver of population dynamics there.

Across the state, Tuscaloosa as a county and as a metro area continues to see growth, almost all of it concentrated in Tuscaloosa County, which has added 14,243 residents since 2010 according to the estimates. Pickens County has seen a slight gain in population since 2010 but Hale County also included in the Tuscaloosa MSA, has lost about 1,000 residents since 2010.

While the Dothan MSA is off the major interstate corridors, it has continued to post modest population growth. Houston County, home to Dothan, has added 3,168 since 2010, according to the estimates, while Henry and Geneva Counties have shown slight declines over the period. Houston’s population growth stemmed from positive natural increase and positive migration.

In the northwest corner of the state, the Florence-Muscle Shoals metro area saw about the same level of domestic in-migration as Dothan. But the two counties Lauderdale and Colbert both have negative rates of natural increase, meaning that more deaths are occurring in those counties than births. Negative rates of natural increase tend to show up in places where the population is disproportionately elderly.


The two remaining MSAs Anniston-Oxford, comprised of Calhoun County, and the Gadsden MSA (Etowah County), also have negative rates of natural increase. And both those counties have negative migration rates, more people move elsewhere than relocate to those counties. Both of the counties have lost population throughout the decade.

Among Alabama counties, Dallas County, home to Selma has had the steepest losses with an estimated 5,508 loss in population since 2010, a decline of 12.6 percent. Two other Black Belt counties, Perry and Macon are declining faster than Dallas in percentage terms. Perry County lost 13.6 percent of its population since 2010 according to the estimates, while Macon County lost 14 percent.


Alabama High School ACT Scores for the Class of 2018

Alabama public high school students’ performance on the ACT was down slightly in 2018, after hitting a high point in 2017. Alabama students’ average score was 19.1 on a 36-point scale, compared to 19.2 in 2017. Over the past four years, Alabama scores have been stable, roughly paralleling the slight up and down of national scores.

Interactive charts in this report allow you to explore the results by system, and school, by subject, and by year. 

How Does Alabama Compare?

The ACT is a test of college readiness and is used by colleges as a factor in the evaluation of applicants’ qualifications for admission. Alabama is one of 17 states that gives the ACT to all public high school students, whether they plan to apply for college or not. Among the states that give the test to all public high school students, Alabama ranks 13th, tied with North Carolina. The average scale score among the 100 percent states is 19.5. 

More Alabama students, a higher percentage of enrolled seniors, and more students of color took the ACT in 2018, according to data provided by ACT and the Alabama Department of Education. This was particularly notable among Hispanic students.  Though small in total numbers compared to whites and blacks, the number of Hispanics taking the ACT increased from 1,867 in 2015 to 2,886 in 2018 (55% increase).  Black students taking the ACT increased over this period from 16,602 to 16,968 (2% increase), and whites slightly decreased from 29,337 to 29,100 (less than 0% change).  Alabama public schools give the ACT in the junior year of high school. The final reported results here are for the students who graduated in 2018. Those students would have taken the ACT in 2017 at their own high school. If a student took the test subsequent to the administration at their high school, the student’s highest scores in each subject would be counted.

School Systems That Have Shown Improvement

In 2018, 85 out of 137 school systems in Alabama posted higher average composite scores on the ACT than they did in 2015. The top 10 systems in terms of improvement on students’ average composite score between 2015 and 2018 are listed below. A more complete listing can be found in the interactive charts.

RankSystem2015 Average Composite Score2018 Average Composite Score
1Opp City18.0919.69
2Fayette County17.9819.53
3Sumter County14.5715.91
4Pike County16.818.08
5Jasper City19.9721.22
6Homewood City22.824.04
7Alexander City18.4919.7
8Thomasville City17.3318.52
9Trussville City21.7322.9
10Auburn City21.3222.49

Keeping Demographics in Mind

On average, students from economically disadvantaged families tend to score lower on standardized tests than students who are not at an economic disadvantage. Similarly, schools where a higher percentage of the student body is economically disadvantaged, the average test score tends to be lower. Comparing schools that have similar demographics is a fairer way to evaluate relative performance. Scatterplot charts, like the one featured below, present score data and student poverty levels at the same time. The vertical position of the school or system is determined by the average test score, while the horizontal location of the school or system is determined by the percentage of the student body directly eligible for a free lunch under the national free lunch program.

ACT Scores and College Admission

Keep in mind that a composite score of 18 is considered a minimum threshold score for college admission at several state colleges.  Others have lower thresholds, including open admissions.  On the other end, a score of 25 or higher is expected at more competitive colleges, while 30 is the minimum threshold at some of the nationally elite schools such as Princeton. The table below lists the median entering ACT composite score students at Alabama colleges. Historically black colleges consider it part of their mission to admit students who may not have had the academic preparation to perform well on the ACT. The average ACT score for black students in Alabama is 16.5.


Revisiting How Alabama Taxes Compare, 2018

With just a few hours remaining to file state and federal taxes, revisit our 2018 analysis of state and local taxes, originally published in December 2018.


Alabama’s state and local governments collect less per capita in taxes than state and local governments in any other state in the union, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Annually, the U.S. Census Bureau surveys state and local governments across the country about their revenues and expenditures. This survey makes it possible to compare the finances of state and local government across the 50 states. In PARCA’s analysis of the data, How Alabama Taxes Compare, state and local revenues are considered together because states vary greatly in how they divide up the responsibilities between state and local governments for financing the operation of services like schools, roads, courts, health care, and public safety. In the end, the combined revenue from state and local taxes is used to provide government services. The data for 2016 is the most recent year available.[1] An interactive version of the data is also available through PARCA’s data dashboard.

Rank in Per Capita Tax Collections, 2016

State and Local Tax SourcesAlabama's Rank Among U.S. States
All Taxes50
Property50
Individual Income36
Corporate Income40
Sales and Gross Receipts29
General Sales30
Selective Sales17
- Alcoholic Beverage3
- Public Utilities5
- Motor Fuel34
- Tobacco Products35
- Other Selective Sales32
Motor Vehicle License45
Other Taxes25

The most glaring difference between Alabama and other states is our low reliance on property taxes.

  • Alabama ranks 50th in the U.S. in state and local property tax collections per capita.

If Alabama’s per capita property tax collections matched the average of other Southeastern states:

  • State and local governments would have an additional $2 billion to spend providing services.
  • Alabama’s overall tax revenue per capita would rank in the middle of Southeastern states, roughly equaling Mississippi’s tax revenue per capita and putting Alabama above Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee in per capita collections. Alabama would still trail Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Georgia.

As it stands, Alabama’s traditional preference for low property taxes leaves state and local governments more reliant on other taxes for revenue. Alabama has among the highest sales tax rates in the U.S. Alabama also has some of the highest taxes per capita on alcohol and public utilities. Despite those higher rates, Alabama doesn’t make up the difference created by its low property tax collections.

Other unusual features of Alabama’s tax system include:

Sales Taxes:

  • Alabama is one of three states that continue to apply sales tax fully to food purchased for home consumption without providing any offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families.
  • Alabama’s sales tax is not as broad as other states and doesn’t apply to most services. Consequently, despite high rates, Alabama’s sales tax isn’t as productive as some other states.

Income Taxes:

  • Alabama threshold for taxing income is the lowest in the nation. Most states set a higher income threshold than Alabama in order to allow poor households to keep more of the money they earn.
  • Alabama is one of three states that allows taxpayers to deduct from state income the full amount they pay in federal income taxes. Since federal income tax rates are higher the more you earn, the higher your earnings the larger the deduction for state tax purposes.

As a bottom line, Alabama governments operate with less revenue on a per capita basis than governments in all the other states.

This is not a new finding. This has been true since the early the 1990s. And it underlies the difficulties we face when trying to provide to our citizens the level of government services enjoyed by citizens in other states.

[1] U.S. Census Bureau State & Local Government Finance. (2016 data released on Sept. 7, 2018). Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/gov-finances.html

To read the full report, How Alabama Taxes Compare, click here.


Jefferson County Mayors Cooperate on Pact to Prevent Intercity Business Poaching

Jefferson County mayors and county commissioners announce a cooperative economic development pact Wednesday at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Mayors from 22 cities in Jefferson County signed a “Good Neighbor Pledge” Wednesday, committing their cities to a set of economic development ground rules designed to prevent incentive bidding wars and counterproductive poaching between the patchwork of municipalities that comprise the county.

With the Good Neighbor Pledge, the mayors hope to end divisive competition and encourage cooperation in recruiting new business from outside the region. Recruiting businesses from one Jefferson County city to another with incentives costs both cities and results in no net gain for the region.

The Pledge is an outgrowth of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham’s efforts to encourage regional cooperation and job growth in Jefferson County, an effort that began by commissioning PARCA to research and report on models of cooperation from across the country. The resulting report, Together We Can, provided information that the Jefferson County Mayors Association built upon to craft the Pledge.

“In the past, our cities tended to compete rather than cooperate,” said Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato. “Today, economic development favors metro areas that work together better as a region.”

The 22 cities represent over 75 percent of the county’s population, including the City of Birmingham, Bessemer, Hoover, Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Homewood, Trussville, Argo, Brighton, Center Point, Clay, Fairfield, Graysville, Lipscomb, Midfield, Mulga, Pleasant Grove, Sylvan Springs, Tarrant, Trafford, Trussville, Vestavia Hills, Warrior, and West Jefferson.
The signing of the pledge took place in the Jefferson County Commission chambers and featured Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons, and Jefferson County Mayors Association president, Center Point Mayor Tom Henderson. They were joined by other commissioners and mayors from cities big and small.

The agreement grew out of conversations within the Jefferson County Mayors Association, which were facilitated by the Community Foundation. Of the various cooperative approaches described in Together We Can, the mayors found Denver’s model for encouraging cooperation as the most promising and achievable first step.

In Metro Denver’s effort to unite its sprawling and fragmented region around a unified approach to economic development, one of its first steps was creating a Code of Ethics that spelled out what is acceptable and what isn’t when cities are working to recruit businesses. Denver’s agreement aimed to stop cities from fighting over local business relocation and focus instead on a collective approach to attracting new business from outside the region.

In addition to the Code of Ethics, Denver developed a Metro Mayors Caucus, an issue-oriented regular meeting of area mayors which facilitates communication and cooperation among the region’s cities.

Both ideas helped launch the effort that bore fruit Wednesday. The conversations at the Jefferson County Mayors Association spawned a committee chaired by Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch, which examined Denver’s Code and gathered other examples from across the country including local government agreements in place in Milwaukee, San Diego, Dayton and Cuyahoga County, Ohio; and the Fort Wayne region of Northwest Indiana. The committee then drafted a version for Jefferson County.

Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch prepares to sign the Good Neighbor Pledge.

The Pledge is not a legal document but an agreed upon set of principles and protocols. It establishes an Advisory Consulting Committee to serve as a forum for interpreting the pledge in real-world situations and resolving disputes that might arise.

The mayors pledged not to initiate contact with a business located in another Jefferson County city with the intention of enticing that business to relocate. And if a business is seeking to move from one Jefferson County municipality to another, the mayors pledged not to offer financial incentives to encourage the move.

On the other hand, the Pledge encourages mutual aid in efforts to recruit businesses that are new to Jefferson County.

The Pledge does not apply if a local business is expanding and establishing new operations that will not result in job loss in the original municipality.

Along with the Pledge itself, more comments from the various mayors are available in the news release distributed Wednesday.


Lower Percentage of College Freshmen in Need of Remedial Education

The percentage of first-time college students assigned to remedial education before embarking on college courses continues to drop, according to the latest data provided by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE).

The data follows Spring 2017 graduates of Alabama high schools who enrolled at Alabama public colleges in the fall after graduation. The data indicate that 28 percent of those who enrolled in higher education were required to take a course in either remedial math or remedial English or both.

A remedial course is designed to bring students up to the educational level needed to succeed in a college course. That percentage needing remediation is down from 34.6 percent in 2011. This drop in remedial rates is occurring at a time when high schools have driven up graduation rates and have sent additional students to college.

Remediation rates are calculated for two subjects: math and English. The most progress has been made in decreasing the percentage of students having to take remedial English. In 2017, the percentage of students needing remedial courses in English dropped to 14 percent, down from 17 percent in 2013.

The percentage of enrolled students taking remedial math also declined to 24 percent in 2017, compared to 26 percent in 2013. 

Why the Remediation Rate is Important

With the implementation in 2012 of Plan 2020, the state’s strategic plan for higher education, K-12 educators set a goal of driving down the number and percentage of students required to take remedial education. Providing remedial courses in college duplicates cost to the state, and remedial education drives up the cost of college for students and families. Remedial courses, since they cover high school level material, don’t count toward a college degree.

The continuing progress on rates of remedial education is noteworthy since it has come during a period in which high schools are charting higher graduation rates. Those higher graduation rates have prompted concern that, in some instances, schools might be lowering standards for graduation in order to show higher graduation rates. However, this data suggests that the students who are going on to college are entering better prepared.

When high schools do a better job of preparing students for college-level work, it produces savings for the student, their parents, and the education system in general.

Higher Education Working to Lower Remediation Rates

The decline in the remediation rate may also be influenced by changes taking place at colleges. Both two and four-year colleges are implementing measures aimed at decreasing the number of students needing remedial courses.

Approaches include using new assessments that identify students’ areas of weakness and prescribe specific remedial material rather than requiring a whole course.  Colleges are also developing extra aid courses that can be taken in tandem with college-level English or math. The supplementary course can provide the extra help that some students need while allowing the student to proceed on the regular college track. The community college system is also partnering with some high schools to offer college prep courses in high school. If high school student earns a B in that college prep course, he or she is considered qualified to start college-level work.  

Explore on Your Own

In the visualization below, you can explore the statics for remediation for local schools and systems. You can sort each column from low to high or in alphabetical order by using the tool on top of each column.

Bear in mind that the ACHE report only captures high school graduates who enrolled in the fall after their graduation in Alabama public colleges. The remediation rates for schools that send significant numbers of students to private colleges or to out-of-state colleges will not necessarily reflect the outcomes for the entire graduating class.


College-Going Rates for Alabama High Schools

The college-going rate for Alabama public high school graduates declined in 2017, and for the first time in three years, the number of high school graduates who went on college declined as well, according to new data provided by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE).

The data, drawn by ACHE from the National Student Clearinghouse, follows Alabama public high school students who graduated in the spring of 2017 and enrolled in higher education in 2017 or the spring of 2018. The data includes records for in-state and out-of-state institutions, both public and private.

In 2014, the first year this set of statistics was produced, 65 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college the year after their graduation. In 2017, 62 percent of graduates enrolled. While the college-going rate has edged down, the number of high school graduates has been going up, as high school graduation rates have climbed. So though the rate was lower, more students entered higher education.

But in 2017, for the first time since 2014, there was a dip in the number of students enrolling. One factor was that the graduating Class of 2017 was smaller than the Class of 2016. Also, the number of students going to community colleges experienced most of the decline, something that tends to occur when unemployment is low, and graduates are drawn directly into the workforce. The number and percentage of high school graduates not enrolling in higher education the year after graduation also increased for the Class of 2017 when compared to previous years: 38 percent of high school graduates did not enroll the year after their graduation.

The intersection of high school graduation and college-going is an area of keen interest as Alabama has set a goal of improving the education and skill levels of its workforce. It benefits the state to have more of its students graduating high school, rather than dropping-out. But those graduates need to have either earned a meaningful occupational credential while in high school or have graduated high school prepared for advanced training or higher education.

Alabama’s public high school graduating class of 2017 totaled 49,764, about 200 students less than the Class of 2016. Among those graduates 15,738, or about 30 percent, enrolled in a two-year community college, according to the data. That’s about 600 students fewer than the previous year.

The number and percentage of students enrolling at a four-year college increased to 15,804, up 128, accounting for 32 percent of graduates. The total number going to public 4-year colleges in Alabama dipped by 122, but that dip was offset by an increase in the number of students going to in-state private colleges or going to four-year colleges out of state. Still, the overwhelming majority, 91 percent of those who enrolled, went to Alabama institutions and 92 percent of those who enrolled went to a public college or university.

The remaining 18,826 high school graduates, 38 percent of graduates, were not found to have enrolled in higher education. Data for individual schools and for school systems is available by exploring the tabs about the data display.

Why is this important?

Alabama trails most other states in educational attainment levels. Higher levels of education generally translate into more job stability, higher pay, and better health. As the economy continues to shift toward jobs requiring a higher level of education and training, the need for a better-educated population grows.

Alabama has set a goal of adding 500,000 new highly skilled workers to its workforce by 2025 in order to meet and exceed the anticipated demands of the evolving economy. To reach that goal, virtually all high school seniors need to graduate ready for college or career, ready to go into advanced training related to employment or into college, prepared for college-level course work.

Alabama’s public high school graduation rate has increased substantially since ACHE began providing this data on college-going rates. During the period since 2014, the number of high school graduates has increased, as has the number of graduates enrolling in higher education. However, the number of students not enrolling has also increased. In round numbers, high school graduates have increased by 4,000 a year, the number of students going to college has increased by 1,000, and the number of students who don’t enroll in the year following graduation has increased by 3,000. This produces a dip in the college-going rate, or percent of graduates attending college.

Other observations from deeper in the data

The new data from ACHE and Student Clearinghouse allows comparisons between Alabama school systems and schools. But when making comparisons, it is important to keep in mind socioeconomic factors that affect college-going. College is expensive. Systems with higher levels of affluence will send a greater share of the students to college. At the same time, some less affluent schools and systems achieve a high college-going rate by sending more students to two-year colleges, a more affordable alternative.  Research shows a number of factors can play into a student’s decision to attend a two-year college.  Examples include (from Community College Review):

  • Open admission policies at many schools that allow students who did not perform as well in high school the opportunity to pursue a higher education
  • A lower tuition rate that can reduce the cost of earning a four-year degree
  • A flexible schedule that provides both day and night courses for students who have families and must work full time
  • Technical training that provides a more direct route to particular careers
  • Proximity to to home

Two-year colleges were originally created in part to provide assistance (a second chance) for students who did not become college ready and could not get into the four-year college of their choice.  Four-year colleges know this and prepare to help them transition into their college when they arrive, or they should. This will include a number of students from lower economic backgrounds, but others too.

For instance, the number one school system for college-going is Mountain Brook, with 92 percent of graduates enrolling in college immediately after graduating from high school. Almost all of those students enroll in four-year college or university.  Students in Mountain Brook are more likely to come from a college-going family with expectations or goals for attending a four-year college than in other systems.  Some systems and schools are likely to be more richly resourced and focused around this objective. By contrast, the system which posted the second highest college-going rate this year, the Oneonta City System, sent 50 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges and 36 percent of its graduates to two-year college, for an overall college-going rate of 87 percent. While two-year colleges have historically been a choice because of needed academic catch-up or cost, with new ideas around a changing workforce they may increasingly become the first choice for students in a variety of systems.

The college-going data also highlights the high-performance levels of magnet high schools. For instance, as a system, Montgomery County Schools have an overall college-going rate of 56 percent among its graduates. However, three of its magnet high schools, Booker T Washington, Loveless Academic Magnet Program, and Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, have college-going rates above 90 percent, which ranks all three in the top 10 among Alabama high schools for college-going.

The data is also presented for schools and systems in statistical form or as represented on a map. Look for selectors on each of the data visualizations that allow you to change the statistic, the schools or systems in the comparison, or the year of the data.

College-going rates are a building block for educational attainment, though entry into college is only one step on the journey to a degree. The rate at which student persist in and graduate from college is also important. Alabama lags behind other states in terms of educational attainment, according to statistics generated by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Educational attainment levels also vary widely by county. Half the adult population of Shelby County has an associates degree or higher, the highest level of educational attainment in the state.


On the opposite end of the rankings is Conecuh County, where only 14 percent of the adult population has an associates degree or higher, according to Census estimates.


Leaders in the Shoals Seek Greater Collaboration

A new report by PARCA, commissioned by the Committee for a Greater Shoals

Energized by a climate of opportunity and a burst of positive attention for the region, civic leaders in the Shoals have launched a new effort to improve the economy and quality of life through cross-community collaboration.

More than 150 people attended the launch of the effort, which is organized by the Committee for a Greater Shoals, a group of Shoals business leaders. The event featured the release of A Greater Shoals: a Pathway, a report authored by PARCA on the current state of the region and avenues of opportunity.

Shortly after the event, 110 people had signed up for one or more of six committees:

  • Broadening the Definition of Economic Development
  • Developing High-Tech Infrastructure/Recruiting
  • Quality of Life
  • Workforce Development and Education
  • Unified Tourism
  • Government Cooperation and Structure.

Off the Interstate corridor and tucked away in the Northwest corner of the state, the Shoals is often described by residents as a well-kept secret. That is part of the region’s charm, but it’s also a frustration.

Taken together, the four cities at the heart of the Shoals — Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia — have a population of over 70,000. A combination of the four adjacent cities would rank as Alabama’s 7th largest city. Leaders in the Shoals have long wondered if the region was held back by the fragmented nature of the Shoals, with four principal cities, and six school systems spread across two counties.

Building off research PARCA performed on the Birmingham metro area, PARCA found evidence that fragmentation did have discernable negative effects in the Shoals but also identified cooperative structures the Shoals has developed to pull the region together.

The report recommended building on those existing cooperative structures to capitalize on immediate opportunities, while embarking on a longer-term process to decrease governmental duplication and work toward greater unity.

The report found success to build on in the area of education. According to PARCA’s analysis, when the K-12 school systems in the Shoals metropolitan area were considered together, they produce a higher college and career readiness rate among high school seniors than any other Alabama area.

The Shoals also has the second highest college-going rate among Alabama MSAs, thanks in part to a local civic initiative, Shoals Scholar Dollars, that provides scholarships for residents of Colbert and Lauderdale counties. The Shoals is home to a community college, Northwest-Shoals Community College, and a four-year university, the University of North Alabama, both of which are poised for growth.

The Shoals has developed vehicles for bringing its counties and cities together in pursuit of economic development, including a unified economic development authority, a unified economic development fund, and a united two-county Chamber of Commerce.

Those cooperative structures create a strong competitive position for the Shoals in pursuing industrial projects, like suppliers for the Toyota-Mazda Manufacturing plant under construction in Huntsville. But they also provide a framework for cooperation on further developing the Shoals natural and cultural assets.

With the Tennessee River running through its heart, the Shoals has unrivaled natural assets, ripe for further recreational development. On the cultural front, the Shoals has enjoyed a surge of national and international attention to the Shoals’ historic and contemporary contributions to American music. That’s drawn a stream of tourists to the FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Florence has emerged unexpectedly as a fashion hub, serving as home base for designers Billy Reid and Natalie Chanin. That new interest builds on top of tourist attractions like Helen Keller’s home in Tuscumbia and W.C. Handy’s in Florence. Traditional down towns in Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia have been revitalized with local investment.

A coordinated cooperative effort to build on these strengths would bring more resources and reach, the report observes. Though traditional economic development has focused on developing sites and luring employers with incentives, contemporary economic development includes a focus on developing an ample and high-quality workforce and providing a high quality of life that benefits locals and attracts new residents and businesses.


Making the Workforce System Work for Alabama

Gov Kay Ivey addresses PARCA’s 2019 Annual Meeting.

Alabama has a record low unemployment rate, with employers hungry for employees. It is a moment of great opportunity to move more Alabamians into the workforce with the skills and education they’ll need to succeed in the 21st-century economy. 

“As we look to our future,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in her keynote address, “more than ever before, now is the time that we must be sure that our workforce is well-equipped to face the opportunities and the jobs of tomorrow.”

That opportunity and the state’s response were the central themes at PARCA’s 2019 Annual Meeting: Does Our Workforce System Work?, held Feb. 15 at the Harbert Center in Birmingham.

The sold-out meeting featured remarks by Raphael Bostic, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, a presentation by Chauncy Lennon, Vice President for the Future of Learning and Work at the Lumina Foundation, and was capped by Ivey’s address.

Bostic laid out the challenge by noting that while many signs point to economic prosperity for Alabama other measures are more vexing:

  • Alabama has one of the lowest labor force participation rates in the U.S. A smaller share of the population participates in work than in most states.
  • Alabama has one of the highest rates of disability among U.S. States. That’s true across all ages, non-Hispanic ethnicities, and education levels, and in both urban and rural areas.
Atlanta Fed Chief speaks on encouraging economic mobility and resilience.

Bringing those discouraged and disadvantaged workers into the workforce presents a prime opportunity for economic growth, Bostic said. If Alabama’s labor force participation rate matched the national average, the state could add 200,000 workers, helping to counter current and anticipated shortages.

If the workforce system can reach those individuals and help them build the knowledge and skills needed to earn a decent living, the whole state benefits through higher tax receipts and lower spending on public assistance, incarceration, and other programs, Bostic said.

Bostic cited successful models for work-based learning in Georgia and the expansion of apprenticeship programs in South Carolina as examples of innovations in workforce development. The Federal Reserve and several partners are compiling research on improving workforce conditions for workers and employers. He also encouraged those interested to follow the Federal Reserve’s stream of information on the region’s economy.

Lumina’s Lennon focused on the need to raise educational attainment levels in Alabama, placing a particular emphasis on the value of earning high-quality certificates or credentials as a way to get individuals into the workforce quickly and without the debt and delay that often accompanies a four-year degree.

The number of good jobs available to those with just a high school degree or less is shrinking, but good jobs are growing for those who’ve completed advanced training or an associates degree. According to Lumina, 62 percent of Alabama working-age adults lack education beyond high school, compared to 53 percent nationally. Providing affordable, accessible, and meaningful training and education for those without education past high school is key to improving Alabama’s competitiveness.

Alabama is in the midst of a multi-year effort to re-energize and better coordinate its approach to education and workforce development. That has been clear in the K-12 system, with its renewed attention to college and career readiness, career technical education, dual enrollment with the community college system, and an improved connection between schools and the business community. PARCA described noteworthy success stories in those efforts were in Leadership Matters, a 2018 report commissioned by the Business Education Alliance and produced in consultation with A+ Education Partnership.

In response to challenges laid out by Bostic and Lennon, a panel of state agency leaders described ongoing efforts to reach untapped populations and to better coordinate workforce development across state agencies.

To quarterback that cross-agency effort, Gov. Ivey created the Governor’s Office of Education and Workforce Transformation, headed by her education policy advisor Nick Moore. Moore was joined on the panel by Lori Bearden, Assistant Director of Federal Workforce Programs, Department of Commerce; Nancy Buckner, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Human Resources; Jane Elizabeth Burdeshaw, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services; and Fitzgerald Washington, Secretary, Alabama Department of Labor.

Panel of agency leaders involved in workforce development.

These agencies, along with K-12 and Higher Education, are being challenged to expand cooperation with employers and with each other to grow the size and improve the quality of the workforce. That’s the fundamental premise of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the latest effort by Congress to improve the responsiveness and performance of state workforce development systems.

WIOA challenges states to build:

  • A workforce system that better serves individuals by providing a complete set of supports and opportunities leading to successful training and employment. Those services and resources might be drawn from multiple agencies depending on the needs of the individual.
  • A workforce system that is more engaged with employers in matching them with appropriately trained employees. WIOA encourages innovative approaches to directly supporting trainees and business through work-based learning and apprenticeships.
  • A workforce system that is more reflective of and responsive to the needs of the local economy. Alabama has responded to that challenge by forming new workforce councils and workforce investment boards.

Throughout the meeting, PARCA shared videos highlighting workforce strategies in place around Alabama:

To Learn more about Alabama’s evolving workforce development system, explore the following links:

Alabama Success Plus Plan
o includes downloadable educational attainment plan
o Interactive data dashboard
Alabama Workforce Council
o includes 2019 AWC Annual Report to the Governor and Legislature
o Additional annual reports from 2014-2018


At 199, Alabama Still Growing, but Slowly

As Alabama approaches its 200th birthday, the state is still adding population but at a slower rate than most of its Southeastern neighbors.

The U.S. Census Bureau released new state-level population estimates in December, providing estimates of state populations as of July 1, 2018. The data release also includes state-level estimates for the underlying components of population change.  A closer look at the components provides insight on the factors affecting Alabama’s growth rate. According to the Census, Alabama has:

  1. The second highest death rate among U.S. States. West Virginia’s is the highest.
  2. The fourth lowest rate of international in-migration.
  3. A positive rate of domestic in-migration, but a rate that is slower than some Southeastern neighbors.

For the most part, the 2018 estimates extend trends among Southeastern states that have been in place since 2010: more rapid growth along the East Coast and in Tennessee, slower growth and even some estimated population loss in the Southeastern interior states.

In the national context, the highest percentage population growth is taking place in the Mountain West states of Nevada, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, with Texas and Florida also placing near the top. A second group of states — Washington and Oregon on the West Coast; Colorado in the Mountain West; and the Carolinas and Georgia on the East Coast; constitute a second tier of growth states with population increases of 1 percent or greater. Alabama falls into a third tier, with growth under 1 percent. Alabama’s population increased an estimated 0.3 percent increase. Eight states, including Mississippi and Louisiana, in the Southeast, lost population in 2018, according to the Census estimates.

To estimate population change, Census tracks births and deaths in a state and estimates the number of people moving in and moving out. According to the 2018 estimates, these are estimated totals for Alabama:

Alabama 2018 Components of ChangeValues
Births57,216
Deaths53,425
Net Natural Increase3,791
Net Domestic Migration5,718
Net International Migration3,344
Net Migration9,062
Net Population Change in 201812,751

To be able to compare those numbers to other states, it is necessary to compute a rate for each measure. The Census expresses rates as a number per 1,000 residents. For example, Alabama had a death rate of 10.9, that’s 10.9 deaths for every 1,000 residents. Alabama’s death rate has been consistently high according to Census estimates, which are based on population estimates and death records collected by public health agencies. Alabama’s population is older than the average state. That effects population in two ways. Older residents are more likely to die, and younger people are more likely to have children. In addition, Alabama residents, by many measures are less healthy than residents in other states and have a shorter life expectancy than residents of most other states. Alabama’s high death rate ultimately depresses the state’s rate of natural increase, which ranks 43 among U.S. states.

Rates of Change, by ComponentsRate of change per 1,000Rate's Rank among U.S. States
Death Rate10.92
Birth Rate11.728
Natural Increase Rate0.843
Domestic Migration Rate1.219
International Migration Rate0.747
Net Migration Rate1.924

The other way states grow or shrink is residents leaving or new residents moving in. Alabama has a positive rate of domestic migration, netting 5,718 new residents that moved to Alabama from other U.S. states. However, Alabama doesn’t attract many transplants from other countries. Alabama ranked 47th in its international migration rate, adding only 3,344 new residents from other countries. That left the state’s overall migration rate in the midrange of U.S. states.

According to the estimates, Alabama continues to be outpaced in population growth by South Carolina, a demographically similar state that was smaller than Alabama at the time of the 2010 Census. Since 2018, South Carolina’s population growth has accelerated, particularly in terms of domestic migration. Since 2010, South Carolina has surpassed Alabama in population, adding more than 450,000 new residents, while Alabama has added just over 100,000.  The interactive maps and charts below allow you to explore the data and make your own comparisons of numeric change, percentage change and rates of change. Expand the display by clicking on the full screen icon on the bottom left of the graphic.


Surging economy boosts Alabama 2018 General Fund and ETF Revenues

Thanks to a booming economy, Alabama saw significantly increased revenue to both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund (ETF) in 2018, with collections far exceeding expectations.

By the September 30 end of the 2018 fiscal year, collections for the state General Fund were up 4 percent or $76 million over FY2017, bringing in just under $2 billion. Revenue to the ETF grew by 6.7 percent, up $426 million over 2017, for a total of $6.7 billion in 2018.

Both funds ended the year with a balance, with revenues exceeding expenditures by $80 million in the General Fund and $336 million in the ETF. The balance in the General Fund will be available to fund either supplemental appropriations or to pad to the 2020 budget. A portion of the ETF balance, $64 million, will be shifted into what’s called the budget stabilization fund, which was set up as an auxiliary savings account which can be tapped if the economy contracts. The remaining $272 million of surplus will be shifted into the advancement and technology fund. The Legislature can spend that fund for certain purposes including the purchase of education technology and equipment.

Strong growth in the General Fund can be credited to the growing economy, but also to decisions by the Legislature in recent years. The General Fund traditionally saw little growth even when the economy was expanding because growth taxes, principally income and sales taxes, were all deposited in the ETF. However, the Legislature shifted some sales taxes, particularly a portion of the sales taxes on goods sold over the internet, to the General Fund. Strong growth in those taxes padded the General Fund’s bottom line.

The effects of the federal tax cut also had something to do with the increased revenue. When federal taxes go down, Alabama collections go up since federal income taxes are deductible from state income taxes. When individuals and corporations pay less in federal taxes, a greater share of earnings is subject to the Alabama income tax. Budget officials in Montgomery have estimated that the difference in the federal tax law will mean an annual boost to Alabama receipts in the $30 to $40 million range.

The rosy revenue picture is not clouded by huge impending financial needs as it has been in the past. Cost growth in Medicaid has slowed, and Congress has extended federal support for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which was an uncertainty earlier this year. The one area of persisting uncertainty is the amount that will be needed to comply with a federal court order to improve conditions in prisons.

The General Fund

The General Fund grew robustly even though it didn’t receive the $50 million per year deposit it had been receiving from a settlement resulting from the BP Oil Spill. The fund also paid out $11 million in a settlement to AT&T. AT&T had collected and paid to Alabama taxes on wireless data plans. Under federal law, internet access is exempt from taxation. Cellular voice service is subject to taxation, and the mobile telecommunications tax used to be a major revenue source. However, wireless companies have lowered their charges to customers for voice calling and shifted much of the cost of service to data plans, which aren’t supposed to be taxed. Proceeds from the tax are now about half what they were in 2013.

Another declining tax source for the General Fund is the tobacco tax. The tax brought in $155 million in 2018, almost $9 million less than the year before.

But those and other declines were more than offset by growing revenue from other sources. Insurance company taxes and corporate taxes were up by $30 million and $21 million respectively. Bringing in $349 million in 2018, the tax on insurance policies is the largest individual source of revenue to the General Fund.

Thanks to rising interest rates, the revenue from interest on state deposits increased by $18 million. Revenues from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board were up by $15 million. The portion of the Use tax that goes to the General Fund increased $14 million. The Simplified Seller’s Use Tax, a sales tax on online purchases, was up $10 million. Revenue disbursed from the state’s abandoned property fund was up by $9 million.

 

The Education Trust Fund

The biggest boost to the state bottom line came through collections of the income tax, which were up 8.2 percent, as more people were working and earning more money.

Sales taxes increased 5.34 percent as consumers spent more. These are the highest growth rates since before the great recession, and the overall 6.7 percent growth in the fund during 2018 is the highest growth rate seen since prior to the Great Recession.

The strong performance in 2018 indicates the state should not have a problem meeting the spending levels set in the 2019 budgets. The Legislature budgeted spending $2 billion from the General Fund and $6.6 billion from the Education Trust Fund in 2019.