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By Steve Levy

Improving Job and Income Mobility for the Region's Low and Moderate Wage Workers

Uploaded: Jun 20, 2014

I have spent the past 18 months working with a team engaged to study how to improve the job prospects and income of low and moderate wage workers in the Bay Area. The project had a research component and an extensive outreach component.
The summary finding is that three sets of strategies are necessary to have a chance for success:
--skill building strategies
--economic growth strategies
--and strategies to improve the conditions of workers who remain in lower wage jobs

Skill building strategies for adult workers and for the next generation are important and I will describe our findings on skill building below. But the fact is that there will be more workers in today's low and moderate wage jobs (less than $18 an hour but most pay less than $12 an hour) in ten years—more people working in restaurants, toruism and building maintenance and security to name a few.

Economic growth does help. Readers have heard the phrase "a rising tide does not lift all boats" meaning that even strong job growth will not eliminate poverty or help everyone. That is true but unemployment and poverty are lower in the strong Bay Area economy than in other regions of the state. Even though economic growth cannot solve all the challenges, it is the single most powerful strategy combined with skill building.

Readers are also familiar with the momentum building to increase minimum wages, enact paid sick leave for low wage workers and other measures to address the fact that skill building and economic growth alone are not enough to address the challenge of people who work full time and are below or barely above the poverty level.
So three sets of
strategies are necessary to achieve the goals of our Bay Area mobility project.

My work focused on the skill building strategies. Here, too, there are three types of strategies that would be helpful and can be implemented within the region.
--addressing the barriers to skill building identified by low and moderate wage workers including English language, math and digital literacy deficiencies as well as the cost and convenience of training

--developing best practice training partnerships, which turns out to depend significantly on having industry partners to inform the curriculum (for community colleges and other training organizations) and work readiness skills needed to land a job in their industry

--helping people connect to the world of work through many kinds of strategies including 1) Linked Learning programs to excite high school students about how their studies can lead to good jobs, 2) programs that help workers navigate the new world of online job search and application and 3) helping job seekers connect with networks and mentors so they can benefit from the experiences of others.

More details on this work can be found on our website home page in a recent report and several presentations on this subject. click here

One of the policy challenges is for people who care deeply about having a strong regional economy and people who work 24/7 on behalf of low and moderate wage workers to themselves as allies, not as adversaries. It is hard enough to make progress on job and income mobility in a good economy. It is near impossible in a bad economy.