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Alabama Disability Cripples Economic Growth

By Sam Poe
Monday, September 22, 2014 | 6:09 AM

According to new statistics, Alabama has the second highest disability rates in the nation. Only West Virginia ranks higher for more disabled workers in the typical workforce. In Winston County in 2013, 1,015 people received disability benefits, totaling $470,000. In Marion County, 1,145 residents were on disability, totaling $558,000.  


While there are many opinions and options for the reason behind this, many experts believe these numbers have resulted from blue collar work in the South. Rather than banking, finance, and other professional office jobs being the main source of work for the state, most Alabama residents have remained in the blue collar industry throughout their lives. Production plants and factories have provided the livelihood for Alabama and other southern states throughout the history of those states.  Alabama's numbers are extremely high, and they are closely followed by Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee further supporting the blue collar claim. 


Industry and manufacturing jobs have provided for the people, but they have also created an environment that is physically straining on the workforce. It often results in back and neck injuries, hearing loss, and further physical injury to workers. Illiteracy is also a factor, as many older Alabama residents are not able to read and write. Without a viable option for employment under those circumstances, these individuals often see disability as the only option. This is true among many of the aging Baby Boomers as the skill sets for employment are low and contained mostly to production type jobs, unemployment is extremely high, and jobs are scarce in these areas. 


Not only is this a scary statistic, but it also limits economic growth in the state. In the first quarter of 2014, Alabama saw a 1.2% increase in incomes. This was the fastest rate of growth in the nation for the time period; however, it came from a rapid increase in government benefits rather than from an increase in employment. Wages and salaries earned at work increased by 1%, but payments from the government increased at 2.2%, including the cost of living benefits increase effective in January 2014. These and many other statistics show up when prospective businesses look at Alabama for beginning new locations. Business owners can be scared to enter the state with a new company, not knowing if there is a large enough qualified workforce to complete the tasks for the business or if there will be a high turnover rate due to injured and/or disabled workers. 

Posted in News