“Record low” unemployment rate, business owners disagree

Published 4:56 pm Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) reports that the statewide unemployment rate has dropped to a “new record low.” In an Aug. 18 news release, Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington said that labor force participation remains unchanged at 57% with the unemployment rate lowering to only 2.1%. 

Pete Hayes, owner of It Don’t Matter in Highland Home, said that from a business owner’s standpoint, he does not agree with these statistics. 

“You just can’t find people to work anymore,” Hayes said. “I’m having to keep my restaurant closed on Monday and Tuesday nights simply because I don’t have enough employees to work. You see signs up all over the place for businesses who are hiring, but no one is applying for those jobs, and those that are applying don’t have the experience they need for the position.”

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The labor force participation rate is defined as the percentage of the population that is either working, or actively looking for work. The unemployment rate represents the number of unemployed individuals as a percentage of the labor force.

Cliff Burkett, partial owner of Fort Deposit’s Priester’s Pecans, has conflicting beliefs about these reported percentages, stating that the uptick of employment numbers is simply not being seen in real time.

“From what we are seeing, the labor force is still very weak,” Burkett said. “It’s a struggle to find people who want to work, even just people who will work only a few hours a week.”

Washington said that one industry sector in particular experienced exponential growth in July.

According to ADOL, the leisure and hospitality industry recorded 213,400 workers in July 2023 falling just short of its all-time record high in June of 2019. 

“Another bright spot to note this month is the recovery of the Leisure and Hospitality sector, which was hit especially hard by the pandemic,”  Washington said. “In July, this sector came within 300 workers of reaching its previous (and pre-pandemic) record high of 213,700 workers.That certainly an amazing turnaround in that industry!”

Burkett, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in economics, noted that while the unemployment rate may appear to be dropping, the statistics can be slightly deceptive to those who aren’t aware of how they’re calculated.

“The unemployment rate is kind of a misleading statistic because it does not take into account people who are not in the labor force, like people who are disabled and cannot work, or people who are not actively looking for employment.” Burkett stated. “When you’re looking at labor, you have to look at a lot more factors than just the sugar coated numbers they give us.”

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms Burkett’s characterization of those not included in the labor force, stating that “Persons who are neither employed nor unemployed are not in the labor force. This category includes retired persons, students, those taking care of children or other family members, and others who are neither working nor seeking work.”

In the ADOL news release, Washington announced that the state’s 2.1% unemployment rate represents 48,834 unemployed AL residents. This number reflects only residents who are able to work and who are actively seeking employment, or are expecting to be recalled from a layoff.