Building the Middle Class with Better Skills and Wages: Who Would be Helped by Stronger Pathways?

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In today’s labor market, postsecondary education is critical to securing good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages.  Workers with higher levels of education tend to have greater earnings and lower unemployment rates than workers with lower levels. To gain the best labor market opportunities, low-income adults and long-term unemployed workers need access to expanded postsecondary education and training.

COWS (Center on Wisconsin Strategy) and CLASP have developed profiles of adult workers in every state who are in need of better skills and wages. Each state profile estimates 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 data sheets show the employment status, education level, race/ethnicity, age, gender, and English language proficiency of these workers and whether they earn above or below poverty-level wages.

Career pathways are one approach that states have adopted to help adults and youth gain the postsecondary education and training they need for better-paying jobs. Career pathways are connected education and training services that enable students to advance over time to ever higher levels of education and employment in a given industry or field. States are also implementing sector strategies, contextualized instruction, developmental education redesign, or other education and training strategies targeted at adult workers in need of better skills and wages.

Policymakers and advocates can use the information in these profiles as a starting point for setting goals and designing policies and strategies to meet the unique needs of this population. Faced with continuing budget pressures, 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.

Use the map below to find your state’s profile.

For a sortable summary of data across all 50 states, click here.  You can also access summary data pre-sorted by number of workers and percentage of workers.