OCTAE Connection - Issue 235 - July 31, 2015

OCTAE Newsletter

July 31, 2015

Investing in Hispanics: Strengthening our Nation’s Workforce

The strength of the U.S. economy is inextricably linked to the strength of the Hispanic workforce. With a population of roughly 24 million, Hispanics represented 16 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2013, and that number is expected to grow to 19 percent by 2022. As of May 2015, there were 5.4 million job openings in the U.S., yet 8.3 million people were unemployed. Low-wage, entry-level jobs should be stepping stones to robust career pathways into the middle class.

In January 2015, President Obama announced Upskill America, an employer-led movement dedicated to expanding economic opportunities for workers through education and workforce development.

In February 2015, OCTAE released the report Making Skills Everyone’s Business: A Call to Transform Adult Learning in the United States, which offers suggestions for how to establish convenient, effective, high-quality learning opportunities for low-skilled youths and adults. As OCTAE continues its efforts to transform adult learning in the U.S, it has partnered with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEA) to highlight the opportunities, promising practices, and federal resources that support this work in the Hispanic community. Jointly, with the WHIEEA and the Department of Labor, OCTAE created the factsheet “Adult Education and Workforce Training: Investing in the Skills Development of Hispanics” to serve as a resource on this critical issue in order to engage all sectors of adult education for Hispanics.

A Look at Economic Inequality in the United States

Among the hot topics in United States policy discussions over the last several years has been the issue of economic inequality between the highest and lowest earners.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) periodically looks at inequality from a variety of angles in its “spotlight” reports.  This column reviews the recent BLS “Spotlight on Statistics” report that puts some of the economic inequality issues into perspective.

In general, when policymakers talk about economic inequality, they are talking about differences among a variety of indicators, for example, wealth, income, and earnings.  The comparison often is between those people with the highest levels in one or more of these categories and people with the lowest levels.  Among the questions addressed are:  How big are these differences?  Have they grown over time?  What other ways do these groups differ besides the economic differences?

This particular BLS spotlight addresses measures of earnings and wages, including how they have changed over time and how they differ, by geographic area, industry, or occupation.  It also discusses how participation in employee benefit plans differs across wage categories, and how people in different income or earnings categories spend their time and money. 

The first comparison in the report concerns real (that is, inflation-adjusted) earnings from 1979 to 2014 for the highest and lowest earners.  In general, real earnings increased for the highest earners since 1979, but have remained unchanged for the lowest earners.  In 2014, half of the full-time wage and salary workers aged 16 and older earned more than $791 per week and half earned less.  In comparison, in 1979 the median weekly real earnings were $733.  Thus, in this 35-year time span, median weekly earnings increased about 8 percent.  If, however, one looks at the earnings for the lowest paid 10 percent of workers over this same time span, their earnings remained basically unchanged.  In other words, using weekly earnings as the criterion of measurement, the bottom 10 percent of wage earners were no better off in 2014 than they were in 1979. This contrasts sharply with the gains made by those in the top 10 percent of workers, whose real median weekly earnings increased 33 percent over the same 35-year time span, from $1,422 to $1,898.

This is just one of the economic inequality highlights contained in the spotlight.  It also includes comparisons of the earnings of college graduates and high school graduates; the jurisdictions with the largest wag gaps between the highest and the lowest earners (with D.C. having the largest wage gap); the industries with the largest and the smallest gaps between the highest and lowest wage earners; and other indicators.