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By Steve Levy

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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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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.


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Posted by mobility, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 20, 2014 at 5:06 pm

You may want to take this to economically depressed areas.

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Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 21, 2014 at 11:07 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Our project was focused on what organizations in the Bay Area could do locally.

In terms of addressing barriers to training and jobs, there are several exciting local initiatives that can be models for additional efforts. Soem examples include

--a group of hotels in San Mateo County partnering with community colleges to teach English and other basic skills to workers onsite

--a new program by the Palo Alto and Sequoia school districts adult education programs to teach English and job readiness skills

--onsite programs at Kaiser in Santa Clara and various janitorial sites to teach vocational English

The key concept here is contextualized learning--teaching these basic skills related to actual or prospective jobs rather than in a traditional classroom setting and context.

Similarly there are programs to teach digital literacy skills in the context of job search. Google has a program to provide tablets and training for janitors so they can receive work orders and communicate by email.

The workforce board I am a member of is partnering with the Stride Center in Oakland in their program to teach entry level information communications technology (ICT) skills. Our added value is in implementing a mentoring/networking component so trainees have access to current workers willing to share their experiences.

Local businesses can get involved by hosting programs like the 4 San Mateo County hotels or partnering with high school Linked Learning programs to show high school students, particularly those at risk of dropping out, how learning is connected to getting a good job--internship opportunities would be a plus.

There is a shared interest here. Businesses need skilled workers and not just software engineers, particularly as more and more baby boomers retire from all kinds of occupations. There will be lots of winners if the general skill level increases and fewer students drop out of education--even if these steps will still leave many working in what are today low wage jobs.

Helping these workers is an additional challenge.

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Posted by mobility, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Steve Levy,

"a new program by the Palo Alto and Sequoia school districts adult education programs to teach English and job readiness skills"

How would this compare to the old and existing Palo Alto Adult School programs to teach English

I know several local workers who learned their English at Palo Alto Adult school. An interesting story was how the program went on-site to teach English to local hotel workers.

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Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ mobility

You asked two questions.

I don't know the answer to how the new adult education English language classes relate to the prior ones. The new classes as well as some of the other initiatives I mentioned are part of a Dept of Labor grant. [Web Link click here]

I do think the strategies we identified would work across the country but it is also true that the Bay Area has more than 1.1 million jobs that pay less than $18 an hour--more than a third of all jobs and most pay under $12.

To give you an idea of what kind of jobs

--for under $12 an hour are lots of restaurant jobs but also retail, home health aides and child care workers.

--for $12 to $15 an hour are janitors, security guards and pre-school teachers

--for $15 to $18 an hour are medical assistants, nursing aides, and shipping clerks

These are median wages for 2012 and of course some workers make more and some make less.

So mobility is important in the Bay Area as well as less prosperous regions.

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Posted by moblity, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 22, 2014 at 7:18 pm

stephen levy.

"addressing barriers to training and jobs"

you list some of the jobs you suggest should "move up" with training?

-for under $12 an hour are lots of restaurant jobs but also retail, home health aides and child care workers.

--for $12 to $15 an hour are janitors, security guards and pre-school teachers

--for $15 to $18 an hour are medical assistants, nursing aides, and shipping clerks

Is there an ideal wage for people to aspire to, away from these jobs, or is your point that wages are low?

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Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 23, 2014 at 11:03 am

stephen levy is a registered user.


The jobs listed are examples of today'a low and moderate wage jobs.

The move up jobs we examined in our project have median wages between $18 and $30 an hour. Some may then move up to jobs paying more than $30 and hour as skills and experience increase.

One example we identified in the project is particularly interesting. Some time back the Contra Costa Water District understood that many of their skilled water and waste water technicians were nearing retirement age. They approached Solano Community College and now there are 21 agency partners throughout the region training replacement workers onsite with industry faculty and covering all costs. Currently Skyline College in San Mateo County is working with local agencies to replicate this model.

These are examples of the kind of industry led training partnerships I talked about in the blog.

Some of the industries where there are move up jobs and ongoing industry partnerships are construction and health care.

Many of the $18 to $30 an hour jobs (most replacing retiring workers) are in sales and office environments, not tied to a specific industry and this makes the training challenge more difficult.

There are also move up jobs within the lower wage industries.

But not everyone can move up as the number of middle wage jobs is limited relative to the number of low and moderate wage workers AND the lower wage jobs such as in restaurants and hotels will continue to grow.

Helping the workers who remain in today's low wage occupations is one of reasons we are seeing a wave of discussions about raising the minimum wage.

I am not in a position to tell anyone what the "right" wage is but most discussions today are in the $10 to $15 an hour range with Bay Area discussions toward the higher end but increasing gradually to those levels over the next few years.

Our client committees had quite interesting discussions about the minimum wage with most saying it should be up to individual communities in the absence of state or federal changes but that a more region wide policy could be helpful in preventing cities from competing against each other on minimum wage and having a number of conflicting rules facing businesses.

So today's report of east bay communities discussing having similar minimum wages is a hopeful sign in my opinion. [Web Link click here]

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Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Jun 24, 2014 at 9:59 am

In 1987 I worked at a residential landscape job for the summer. I was paid $ 14.50 an hour. The house was in Los Altos.Back then The house was worth around $250,000 -$300,000 range. Now the house is selling for around $2,500,000. Guys working landscape now get about $10 to $12 an hour.Most workers are undocumented and from Latin America.

The immigration issue should be addressed first.

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