At yesterday’s WCC Board of Trustees meeting, representatives from SEMCOG delivered a presentation on the state of Southeast Michigan’s workforce. One of the major takeaways from the presentation is that Detroit’s labor force participation rate (LFPR) is lower than any other Midwestern major city. It also reveals opportunities for WCC to exercise genuine workforce leadership.
The statistics SEMCOG provided, while accurate for “Southeast Michigan” do not apply to the Ann Arbor area. There are substantial differences between the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and the Ann Arbor MSA. That doesn’t mean WCC can’t use SEMCOG’s population and workforce data to make good strategy decisions.
It’s important to understand key factors about the Ann Arbor MSA’s working-age population. Overall, the Ann Arbor MSA’s labor participation rate is 61.6%, according to the US Census Bureau. This is actually lower than both Detroit’s LFPR (62.3%), and the US national average LFPR (63.2%).
When we look at the Ann Arbor MSA’s LFPR by age, some additional facts help give context to the numbers.
So, in Ann Arbor, the age groups where the LFPR falls below the national average include high school-age individuals, college students and retirees. About 10% of the Ann Arbor MSA’s population is older than 65. Nearly a quarter of the population in the Ann Arbor MSA is younger than 20. Most importantly, 22% of the Ann Arbor MSA population is age 20-24. The University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University undoubtedly contribute to the disproportionate size of this particular age bracket.
Where are the workforce leadership opportunities?
Labor participation statistics focus predominantly on adults between the ages of 25-54. According to SEMCOG, four major factors affect an area’s LFPR. They are the share of the population:
- between the ages of 25 and 54
- with a bachelor’s degree
- with a disability
- and the number of single-parent households
In the Ann Arbor MSA, about 45% of the population is age 25-54. This distribution is smaller than the “working age population” of most major cities. On the other hand, 75% of the people in this group have at least a bachelor’s degree. Among these adults, the LFPR is 83.2%. This is much higher than the national average. It is also 10% higher than the overall LFPR in Minneapolis-St. Paul (72%), which has the highest LFPR of any major Midwest city.
Among Ann Arbor-area residents with some college education, the LFPR is 76.7%. This is still higher than the national average of 63.2%. “Some college” does not include people with an Associate’s Degree. About 3.85% of the adult population in the Ann Arbor MSA has a two-year degree. Among high school graduates in the Ann Arbor MSA, the labor participation rate is 64.6% – still higher than the national average.
For people with less than a high school diploma, the LFPR is 58.3%. This demographic group participates at a lower rate than the national average. It is important to remember that this group includes high school students between the ages of 16-19. These workers don’t yet have a high school diploma, but many of them are also still participating in the K-12 educational system. Fewer than 3% of adults over the age of 25 in the Ann Arbor MSA failed to complete a high school diploma.
What can WCC do to assist the Ann Arbor MSA?
Ann Arbor has a smaller than average proportion of people age 25-54. Three-fourths of working age adults in Ann Arbor already have at least a bachelor’s degrees. These people already participate in the workforce at a much higher than average rate. WCC’s workforce leadership opportunity exists among the population who has “some college” but not a degree. Turning “some college” into a two-year degree will help these workers participate more fully in the labor force.
According to figures maintained by Washtenaw County, about 9% of county residents have some type of physical, mental or emotional disability that prevents them from participating more fully in the workforce. Additionally, as many as half of single-parent families with children under the age of 5 live below the poverty line. About one-third of single parent families with children under the age of 18 live in poverty. Further, women traditionally participate in the workforce at lower rates then men do. WCC should develop programs and support services that aggressively target these groups to elevate their participation in the workforce.
Developing an educational contingency plan
WCC can enable residents survive economic downturns by developing tools to help them assess their vulnerability to job and income loss. This is where WCC can use the SEMCOG employment projections, gender and earnings data effectively. Workforce leadership means using the data to develop programs for in-demand skills; helping people in declining industries recognize their risk; and leading people to viable education and employment options while they’re still working.
The thing about getting a two-year degree is that it takes two years. That’s a long time when you’re unemployed and have a family to support. Encouraging people at the greatest economic risk to develop and implement educational contingency plans can both empower residents and improve enrollment regardless of the state of the economy.
These preparations might only include taking general education courses, but earning those credits – which apply to any degree program – can later allow students to focus on the courses that will accelerate their return to the workforce. And that segment of the population with “some college?” They can transfer those credits to WCC as part of a contingency plan to finish a degree or train for a new career.
For single-parent households, one of the primary barriers to classroom education is finding childcare. While WCC has a child care center, it is one of the worst-kept buildings on campus. Upgrading this facility should not wait another five years. WCC should be using this extended period of economic stability to enhance its child care facilities to better support single parents with young children.
WCC shouldn’t waste taxpayer resources to build a hotel and conference center. There’s a lot of work to be done. The most vulnerable county residents need WCC to create educational opportunities and remove barriers to learning and succeeding.
Photo Credit: Bytemarks, via Flickr.com