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Millions of Workers Lack Tools for Economic Success, Need Better Skills and Wages

Aug 28, 2013

Across the country, students are headed back to college this week, continuing on a path to increase their job prospects and earnings potential. We've long known that workers with higher levels of education have greater earnings and lower unemployment rates than less educated workers. And a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute shows that education strengthens not just the individual, but entire communities, with a clear and strong link between the education level of a state's workforce and the state's median wages.

Though many states have increased the skills of their workforce, millions of workers still lack the education and training necessary for economic success. New state profiles from the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) and the Center on Postsecondary and Economic Success (C-PES) at CLASP describe just how many workers need better skills and wages in each state. This "target population" is the number of adult workers (ages 25-64) who are without two or four-year college degrees or have limited English skills and who earn less than the state median wage, or are in the labor force but have not worked for the last year. The state profiles also show the employment status, education level, race/ethnicity, age, gender, and English language proficiency of this target population and whether they earn above or below poverty-level wages.

We find that the number of workers who need better skills and better wages tops more than one million in each of 14 states, and more than 500,000 in another 15 states. California, Texas, Florida, and New York have the largest numbers of workers needing access to postsecondary education, while Louisiana, Nevada, Alabama, and Arkansas have the highest percentages of workers in need.

We hope that these state profiles can help policymakers and advocates better understand the makeup of workers in their state, setting the foundation for new state funding, policies and systems that help more low-income and low-skilled workers get the education and training they need to be economically self-sufficient.

Career pathways-connected education and training services in an industry or field that enable workers to advance over time-are one approach that states have adopted to help achieve this goal. States are also implementing sector strategies, contextualized instruction, developmental education redesign, expanded financial aid and support services, and other approaches targeted at adult workers in need of better skills and wages. Faced with continuing budget pressures, policymakers should also consider strategies to align a range of private and public funding sources, such as the Workforce Investment Act, Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the Higher Education Act, and state and local funding, with the end goal of helping many more workers secure credentials and family-sustaining employment.

See how many workers in your state could benefit from better skills and wages >>.

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