Global Economy Demands Highly Skilled Workers
In the rapidly changing global economy, workers increasingly need high skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and intellectual flexibility to shift from one task or project to another. They must have high language and math skills, technological capability and a strong capacity to work in teams. Many rote tasks associated with manufacturing have been replaced with multiple tasks that change and require a different sort of analysis and strategic thinking. Upward mobility requires a college degree.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor: “The American economy is confronted with the challenges of rapid technological changes, the globalization of world markets, and profound demographic shifts. These forces are reshaping the workplace in terms of the nature and types of jobs, the composition of the workforce, and workers’ education, skills, and experiences in the world of work.
• Workers with postsecondary credentials are more likely to be employed than those with a high school education or less. In 2000, 87.8% of workers with a college degree were employed, which is a 12% higher employment rate than for those with just a high school diploma, and a 40% higher employment rate than for those with less than a high school diploma.
• According to a National Association of Manufacturers survey, over 80% of manufacturers reported a shortage of highly qualified applicants with specific educational backgrounds and skills.
• According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring postsecondary education will account for 42% of the total job growth between 2000 and 2010. However, the growth in the number of workers with postsecondary education over the next 20 years is expected to be only 19%, which is much lower than the 38% rate between 1980 and 2000.
Job openings in Connecticut are heavily oriented toward low-wage jobs requiring little preparation. In 2000, occupations requiring postsecondary education or training provided opportunities for 89,740 positions that paid a total over $5.9 billion (at an average salary of more than $60,000) while occupations with the least preparation requirements provided opportunities for nearly five times as many (429,560) positions that paid a total payroll of only about $9 billion (at an average salary of more than $20,000).
The new economy does not promise the long-term security or benefits found in manufacturing jobs of the past. Long-term security for the family where a worker is in one job with protection and benefits has been eclipsed by a global market with dramatically changed labor market needs.
Workforce Skills do not match Workforce Needs
Many high-paying jobs with benefits require competencies that low-skilled, low-educated workers often do not possess. Increasingly, post-secondary training is becoming a prerequisite for jobs offering a higher standard of living, even though customized on-the-job employer training for such jobs is often unavailable.
Workforce need and workforce skills are not aligned. In Hartford alone there are 70,000 job openings. Yet the high school graduates from the city itself are not able to fill them. They lack the education or workforce skills necessary for the kinds of jobs opening up in the business sector. Employers hire from without.
The Connecticut Department of Labor reported that the state lost 63,000 jobs from July 2000 to July 2004, a 3.7% loss of the state’s total number of jobs at Connecticut’s employment peak prior to the national recession. In 2001 alone, Connecticut workers lost 8,000 manufacturing jobs and 18,000 service jobs.
In the 2000 Census, 25% (more than 200,000) of Connecticut’s children did not have a full-time, year-round employed parent; Connecticut ranked 25th in the nation on this measure. Connecticut’s 4.8% unemployment rate in June 2004 is double the 2.4% rate exactly four years earlier, prior to the most recent recession. While 11 towns have unemployment rates of less than 2%, 15 towns have unemployment rates that exceed 6%.
Many of the largest cities have very high unemployment rates, led by Hartford (10.2% and Bridgeport (8.4%). In many cases, these cities have adjacent inner-ring suburbs that also have higher-than-average unemployment rates, suggesting that the challenges experienced by the cities extend to their neighboring communities.
The 2003 unemployment rates in Connecticut among Latino (10.3%) and African-American (9.7%) workers were more than twice the rate of white workers (4.5%). About one quarter of all unemployed persons are “long-term” unemployed, meaning that they have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks.
The lower the level of educational attainment, the more likely that a worker will be unemployed. In Connecticut and nationally, those lacking a high school degree experienced unemployment rates (12%) in 2003 that were 4 times greater than those experienced by persons with at least a bachelor’s degree (3%).
The widespread unemployment affecting many Connecticut families places children at risk of not having their basic needs met for food, clothing, and shelter.
Employment segregation is another factor. Nearly two-thirds of all women workers in Connecticut work in only two occupational categories – “technical/sales and administrative” and “service”. Jobs dominated by women have been historically under-valued and continue to be so. In the United States, women made only 75.5 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2003.
The chart below shows national average annual salaries for selected jobs, calculated by the U.S. Bureau of the Census for 1999 (The Connecticut Department of Labor indicated that average annual salaries for most of these jobs in Connecticut are higher.)
Gender Gaps in U.S. Occupations (1999)
The proportion of Connecticut women working full-time, year-round yet earning less than $20,000 (13%) and less than $30,000 (30%) is approximately double the proportion of Connecticut men working full-time, year-round who are earning such low incomes (6% and 17% respectively).
In 1997, women in Connecticut earned approximately 74 cents for every dollar earned by men, or an average of $179 less per week or $9,308 per year.
Race and ethnicity
The disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos living in poverty corresponds, in part, to their overrepresentation in low-paying jobs, higher rates of unemployment, higher rates of layoff (displacement), and the significant wage gap between whites and non-white workers in the same job.
Among African Americans surveyed in a national study, 28% said they had been treated unfairly at work because of their race, compared to 16% of workers of other races and 6% of white workers. Workers of Hispanic origin were also more likely than non-Hispanic workers to experience race-based unfair treatment (22% vs. 8%).
According to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employee complaints of discrimination and racial harassment in the U.S. workplace have increased significantly in the last ten years, from a little more than 3,000 per year in 1991, to almost 9,000 in 2000. Employee charges of retaliation for complaints about discrimination and racism have also increased, as have damage awards to employees in EEOC lawsuits involving race-based charges. Discrimination remains a major concern for many workers.
The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) is designated by the EEOC to process illegal discrimination complaints in the state. CHRO has received a steady increase in the number of cases involving race-based discrimination, from 577 cases in 2000/1 to 680 cases in 2003/4.
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