By Don Baylor & Leslie Helmcamp
This Labor Day we hear that the Texas unemployment rate has remained below the national average. We also hear that Texas has added new jobs every month for the past two years. What we don’t hear is that 1 in 7 working families in Texas lives below the poverty line. This compares to 1 in 10 nationally.
So how can this be?
Focusing on unemployment rates and the number of jobs added as a measure of our state’s success masks a bigger issue many Texans face every day. Our state economy isn’t creating enough jobs to keep pace with our booming population, and the majority of jobs aren’t paying enough for many families to get by and get ahead. As a result, the Texas jobs deficit continues to grow, while hardworking Texans face growing financial insecurity.
In Texas, lower-wage employment continues to grow faster than higher-wage jobs. The state is tied with Mississippi for the highest proportion of low-wage jobs, with more than half a million, or 10 percent, of hourly paid workers in Texas making the minimum wage or less. And more than half of Texas jobs pay, on average, less than $36,000 (i.e., about twice the federal poverty rate for a family of three). That means that these jobs do not pay enough for a family of three to meet their basic needs, including rent, food, child care, health care and other necessities. Even more Texans have nothing to fall back on despite their hard work, with 1 in 2 having virtually no “rainy day” savings.
Texas has lower levels of education compared to the rest of the country, leaving many at higher risk of becoming unemployed and with too few credentials to move into stable careers. It ranks 49th in adults ages 25 to 54 without a high school degree (18 percent) and 40th in the proportion with an associate degree or higher (33.3 percent).
What our state needs is a sustained commitment to create more opportunities for Texans to acquire skills and education, earn higher incomes and build savings and assets. Our policies should encourage growth in good jobs and support businesses, schools and colleges in providing the training and education necessary for Texans to fill jobs in high-demand occupations.
Policymakers should move from an unhealthy obsession with job quantity toward an approach that emphasizes job quality, economic mobility and financial security for working families.
Career and workforce readiness training — implemented by community colleges, adult basic education providers and workforce boards — can reverse these trends and create more opportunity for Texans in and out of the workforce. One promising practice is to couple basic academic skills training (e.g., GED attainment, college preparation) with technical skills training.
It’s high time for Texas to turn the page from counting numbers of jobs to building careers and promoting financial security. This focus will create prosperity for us all.
(Don and Leslie’s piece ran in this weekend’s Waco Herald-Tribune; you can read the piece on their website here: http://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/columns/168344256.html)