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Technology occupations lead growth in wage gap

A comprehensive Payscale study of community college graduates showed that WCC alumni rank in the bottom 50% for annual early- and mid-career earnings. Early-career WCC alumni earn an average annual salary of about $40,300. That’s just about $500 more than the median annual salary for all occupations in the United States. Technology occupations have a remarkably different earning potential, however, and that’s expanding the wage gap in the US.

Salary is one indicator how well workers cope economically during the pandemic. High-wage workers are six times more likely to be able to work remotely than their low-wage counterparts. USC research indicates that in-person workers were three times as likely to lose their jobs in 2020. Those who did not faced a higher likelihood of contracting the COVID-19 virus.

So, who are the highest-wage workers in the US right now? Technology occupations earn a median annual salary of $88,240 – a difference of nearly $50,000 more than the median salary for all occupations. More than 60% of top-quartile earners can work remotely. 37% of second quartile earners can work remotely. 20% of third quartile earners can work from home, and less than 10% of bottom quartile earners can work from home.

About one-fourth of remote workers earn more than $100,000 per year. That’s notable because less than 10% of office workers who must work in-person earn more than $100,000 per year. The highest-wage employees – and those most likely to work remotely – are overwhelmingly White and Asian. Unsurprisingly, the lowest-wage earners in the US are most likely to be Black and Hispanic. They’re most likely to work in sectors where work-from-home is not an option. These sectors include leisure and hospitality; agriculture; transportation; retail; construction; and health services.

WCC should improve coursework for technology occupations

What does this have to do with WCC? It’s becoming clear that there is a major shift underway. The workplace is speaking, and it favors technology-occupations. In return, it offers high wages and stable employment. Short-term certificate programs aren’t going to open many doors. WCC should not be myopically focused on getting workers into the economy quickly.

That strategy will not be as lucrative or beneficial to the broader economy as producing high-skill, well-educated workers will. In fact, it is more likely to trap workers in chronically low-wage jobs. It’s also likely to make the local economy less attractive to technology-driven industries. One large local employer has started recruiting technology workers from elsewhere because it believes it has exhausted the technology talent pool in Southeast Michigan.

There is an opportunity to both expand the talent pool in Southeast Michigan and place more Black and Hispanic workers in high-wage jobs.

That effort requires investments in academic programs. It does not require the construction of buildings that WCC is not prepared to maintain. It requires more education, not less. More degrees, fewer certificates. It is not about speed, but rather about quality. It requires more cooperation with universities who are eager – by the way – to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students they enroll.

There is real work to be done here. Not one dime of the district’s educational taxes should be devoted to anything else. (Like building hotels.)

Photo Credit: Henderson State University , via Flickr