Earlier this week, the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics released a series of regional Career Outlook reports that project employment needs through 2030. The reports contain information about jobs in highest demand, as well as high-wage, high-demand jobs.
There is no surprise among the list of high demand jobs. With no exceptions, the jobs in highest demand are those that don’t pay a living wage. Right now, the minimum ante for living wage jobs is about $20-$21 per hour. That figure applies to workers with no dependents. In other words, it describes people who are simply trying to support themselves.
In Southeast Michigan, employers expect to create more than 12,000 low-wage jobs each year through 2030. That means these employers would like to find 85,000 people to commit to working poverty-wage jobs over the next seven years.
The problem with this approach, of course, is that these low-wage jobs don’t just affect 85,000 people. Low wage employers tend to experience a lot of rapid turnover. People find out quickly that they cannot make ends meet with a low wage job. If 35% of these workers cycle out of these jobs every year, employers will need to churn through about a quarter-million people to keep those 85,000 low-wage jobs filled.
If we agree that the population of Southeast Michigan is 5,000,000 people, then 5% of the population in this area are going to have to agree to work low wage jobs for some portion of the time between now and 2030 to meet the labor demands of employers who don’t pay a living wage.
Protect high-wage, high-demand jobs
Put another way, we will need to discourage workers from pursuing higher wage jobs. That’s bad for the workers and bad for the regional economy because workers aren’t earning to their full potential. It also encourages outward migration to other states where either the wages are higher or the cost of living is lower. That population drain reduces Michigan’s influence in national politics. It also makes the job of convincing new employers and new industries to relocate in Michigan.
All the high-demand jobs on the list except for Home Health Aides are classified as unskilled labor. (Home Health Aides in Michigan must be certified, which requires a candidate to complete 75 classroom hours and 16 practical hours prior to taking the certification exam.) For their efforts, Home Health Aides can expect to earn about $30,000 per year.
Of course, there are lots of low-wage employment opportunities that didn’t make the list, but still serve to ensnare people who could be more productive, economically speaking. About 20% of the high-demand, low-wage jobs skirt the area’s living wage. They come close enough to draw workers in, but not close enough to avoid creating ALICE households. They also divert people who could be training for high-wage, high-demand jobs into high-demand, low-wage jobs instead.
Community colleges should recruit workers in these industries into training programs that prepare them for high-wage, high demand employment. For example, current home health aides could make more money as LPNs, RNs, or other allied health workers. These positions have many openings and pay living wages.
Community colleges must eliminate their own low-wage academic programs to encourage students to train for high-wage, high-demand jobs. Community colleges should never facilitate low-wage work. Let the low wage employers fend for themselves.
Photo Credit: R. Nial Bradshaw , via Flickr