Report Says Louisianans Needs Better Skills, Higher Wages to Lessen Dependence on State, Federal Aid

September 04, 2013 | The New Orleans Times-Picayune |  Link to article

More than 40 percent of Louisiana's workforce needs better skills and wages, according to a report from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

CLASP argues that while post-secondary education and credentials are key to economic mobility for individuals and economic competitiveness, too many low-income adults and disadvantaged youth are locked out of the opportunity to earn credentials and are falling further behind.

Using information from a 2011 American Community Survey and data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, CLASP, a Washington D.C. advocacy institution, found that 386,820 Louisianans aged 25 to 64 worked in the previous year but earned poverty-level hourly wages, while 310,097 people earned above-poverty levels but below the $15 an hour state median wage.

Moreover, the report also found in the same age group, 152,287 residents had no high school diploma, 352,280 had a high school diploma, and with 238,572 having some college but no degree

"This state profile is really a way to show that are many different type of workers out there that can benefit from better skills and better wages," Marcie Foster, a policy analyst at CLASP said, adding this includes workers currently in the workforce but living on poverty wages and struggling to get by.

"It's our understanding that these people can benefit from higher levels of education either through the career pathway approach or through other promising education and training models," Foster said.

The career pathway approach is not a formal program but a way of thinking about education and training for adult workers and older youths who are not in high school.

But the aim of the pathway approach is to make sure that individuals are more connected to secondary credentials to become more self-sufficient.

The career pathway tries to create a seamless transition from high school to higher-level or secondary credentials.

There are at least 10 states engaging in a statewide career pathway effort. Among them are: Arkansas; California; Illinois; Kentucky; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Oregon; Virginia; Washington and Wisconsin

Foster said the career pathway approach hasn't been evaluated in terms of the specific impact on a state or local economy.

"But we have evidence that an increased educated workforce reaps benefits both at the state level and the individual level," she said. "States can really build a very strong economy by investing in education through the career pathway approach."

Foster said taking on this type of approach is good for state budgets in the long-run, with more people contributing to the tax-base and their children are more likely to achieve higher level credentials.

"A well-educated individual is more likely to have better health and be less-of-a-burden to state and federal benefit programs," she said.

More formal education, however, doesn't always measure equal to better paying jobs.

Tom Guarisco, communications director for Louisiana Workforce Commission, said the study did not account for the fact that in Louisiana, many workers may not necessarily have as much formal education, but do have higher certifications as required by many businesses in Louisiana.

"This is especially true for craft workforce demand, where most technical occupations require a nationally recognized certification," Guarisco said, adding that students earn these certifications in 8th through 12th grades, but are not noted in education attainment cited in the survey.

Guarisco said Louisiana's workforce is highly skilled because of the state's extensive experience with certifications and credentials, which is driven by employer demand.

"Louisiana's skilled workers earn better wages than state averages despite not showing up in the education attainment numbers quoted in the study," he said.

Guarisco said the report fails to recognize that many occupations in Louisiana pay very well. "In fact, many (employers) pay higher than the state average median wage of $31,200 despite requiring less than a college education.

CLASP, who teamed up with the Center on Wisconsin Strategy on the report, said "policymakers should 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."

According to Guarisco, there are 622 occupations in Louisiana that don't require a college degree, with more than 200 of them being in high demand and high growth areas. He added that by 2020 it's expected that the state will have 239,000 job openings in occupations requiring less than a college degree.

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