The growing job challenges of DC residents without a college education — including falling wages, stubbornly high unemployment, and an economy where job growth is concentrated in industries requiring advanced education and skills — highlight the urgency of helping more residents get better jobs. The District can tackle this challenge by implementing bold reforms to its education and training programs. The city also should adopt policies that improve the quality of all jobs in the District, such as a higher minimum wage, requiring employers to give workers advance notice of their weekly schedules, and creating a program to allow workers to take paid leave to be with a new child or a sick relative. These actions will give residents the tools they need to provide for themselves and their families, which in turn will strengthen the entire DC economy.
DC’s economy is expanding, but many new jobs require advance education and skills. Job growth over the past 25 years has been greatest in professional and business services and education’industries where core jobs generally require higher levels of skills and education. Meanwhile, industries that generally do not require higher level skills’such as manufacturing and trade’have been in decline. Hospitality and certain health care service jobs are two notable exceptions’these jobs generally do not require high skills, but have increased substantially since 1990.
In addition to the challenge of finding a job, DC residents without a college degree face falling wages, while college-educated residents enjoy increasing pay. Wages have fallen $2 an hour since 1980 for residents with a high school diploma, to just $13 an hour for the typical worker. Meanwhile, hourly pay for the typical college-educated DC resident has risen $5 an hour, after adjusting for inflation.
The District has important opportunities to improve the job prospects of DC residents. Mayor Bowser has committed to reforming the city’s job training system, and a new federal law requires the city to develop a new workforce development plan by March 2016. These efforts should focus on preparing residents for jobs in DC industries that are growing and offer entry-level jobs and career pathways for workers without advance education, especially hospitality and health services. Given the large number of residents without a high school degree, reforms should focus on adult literacy as well as training and credentialing. In addition to improved education and training, the District can improve the quality of jobs for all working residents by increasing the minimum wage, requiring employers to give workers advance notice of their weekly schedules, and creating a system to provide paid family leave to workers who take time off with a new child or with an ill relative.
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