Absent immigration from other states or from abroad, Alabama’s working-age population is on track to shrink in coming years, according to a PARCA analysis of new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
(Not represented in the graphic are the more than 85,000 Alabamians the Census estimates included in the 85 and older category).
The 2021 Census population estimates by age provide a preview of the number of individuals that will join the workforce and the number that will likely be leaving it. Two factors are conspiring to create downward pressure on the working-age population:
- Large numbers of aging Baby Boomers are likely leaving the workforce
- The smaller rising generations, Gen Z and Gen A, will provide fewer replacements for those retiring workers.
In 2021, the Census estimates there were 65,730 64-year-olds in Alabama vs. 63,125 18-year-olds, a difference of about 2,600.
In every successive year thereafter, the number of Boomers exceeds the corresponding Generation Z cohort.
The gap widens significantly when today’s 11 and 12 years reach the age of 18. In 2008, with the advent of the Great Recession, birth rates fell. And they haven’t recovered.
Even when the Baby Boom has moved out of the prime working years, the number of potential leavers will outnumber new entrants, based on the current age structure of the Alabama population.
Considering only the current population, over the next 18 years, Alabama’s population between the ages of 18 and 64 will drop by a cumulative total of more than 50,000.
However, current residents only make up part of the story. Population growth is also influenced by migration and birth and death rates. Labor force supply is also affected by migration, by labor force participation, and indirectly by educational and skills attainment.
In terms of the natural population increase, Alabama has already seen two successive years in which deaths exceeded births. In 2021, about 8,500 more people died than were born, according to the estimates. This is due to the larger number of people moving into old age and the elevated death rates associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In terms of migration, changing patterns are affecting population and labor supply. From 2010-2016, most of Alabama’s population growth came through international immigration, with the state annually adding about 10,000 new residents who had been born abroad.
Since 2018, international migration has dropped, but domestic migration has increased.
In recent years, Alabama has enjoyed a net positive inflow of residents from other states, about 20,000 new residents a year from that source.
With unemployment low and demand for workers high, Alabama may continue to attract new residents through migration. But at the same time, the state is trying to increase the quality and the quantity of Alabama’s homegrown labor force:
- By improving the education and training of the rising generation so that they are equipped for 21st-century jobs
- By bringing Alabamians who’ve fallen out of the workforce back in
An array of state initiatives are underway to improve student preparation:
- the expansion of First Class Pre-K
- the Alabama Literacy Act
- the expansion of Advanced Placement classes, high school/college dual enrollment, and the expansion of career technical education.
On the labor force participation front, through the Success Plus Initiative, the Alabama Workforce Council, the Governor’s Office, and an array of state agencies and participating nonprofits are collaborating on strategies to bring more people into the workforce training and education systems. The initiative seeks to address barriers individuals face to participating in the workforce and training. Through cooperation and outreach, the partners hope to reach discouraged workers and provide them pathways to high-demand fields.