Home-grown workers need better education, more tech skills.

In a recent speech at the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Brookings Institution vice president and Metropolitan Policy Program director Amy Liu stressed the importance of improving education and skills training for our regional workforce.  She noted that only 33% of 25-34 year-old workers born in Washington have a bachelor’s degree or higher – a level of education increasingly needed to secure living-wage jobs in a modern economy.  To make up for this deficit, regional employers rely on transplants – from other states and countries.

educated-workforce

 

A peek at the Employment Security Department’s  top 25 occupations advertised online for King County in September reveals a high concentration of living-wage jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree, often coupled with additional training, experience, licensing, or credentials. For example, the top 7 occupations accounted for 21,117 job postings.  Of those:

  • Only 1 (registered nurse, with 2,451 job postings and an average annual salary of $85,897) does not require a bachelor’s degree.
  • The other 6 occupations (software developers, “other computer occupations,” marketing managers, web developers, network and computer systems administrators, and computer systems analysts) all require at least a bachelor’s degree, and pay an average salary of $109,612.

Even if the skills needed to do a job haven’t changed, the qualifications needed to get the job probably have.  How the Recession ‘Upskilled’ Your Job, a posting on The Atlantic’s CITYLAB, uses data from the National Bureau of Economic Research to show how employers use recessions to restructure their work forces. In 2015, online job ads were 12% more likely to require more education, more experience, or more specific cognitive skills – for the same job – compared to pre-recession postings.

In King County, however, tech skills are highly valued, and this is reflected in the specific skills included in job postings.  Only 4 of the 25 top skills listed in the past 3 months of online ads were non-technical (quality assurance, customer relationship management, pediatrics, and bilingual).

25-top-skills

Today’s workers need to “upskill” – both for jobs that haven’t really changed much and for those that depend on regular upgrading of skills and education.  Amy Liu called on government, educators, and employers to help bridge the skills gap:   “The region can build on its promising efforts by focusing on helping local students and working-age adults gain the education and skills needed to attain good jobs generated by its robust economy.”

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Washington’s Employment Security Department provides extensive information about different occupations, including wage estimates, job listings, employment requirements, training opportunities, and whether demand is rising, falling, or staying the same.   The WorkForce  website offers an assortment of tools and resources for job-seekers and employers.  King County’s Office of Economic and Financial Analysis has recently updated data on employment trends in King County and on associations between educational attainment and wages and employment.

New survey will assess needs & strengths of local families

Do children in our region get recommended medical checkups? Can families get the child care they need?  How many children are ready to succeed in school? Until now, we didn’t have a good source for this information. Starting this month, King County will begin to fill the information gap with a first-ever community-wide survey to help us understand the strengths and needs of local families. The Best Starts for Kids (BSK) health survey is sponsored by the voter-approved BSK Initiative (www.kingcounty.gov/beststarts), and was developed in consultation with local experts and trusted community-based organizations.  About 12,000 randomly selected King County parents or caregivers with children in 5th grade or younger will be asked to participate.  Results will be shared with the public in 2017.

New survey to assess needs and strengths of families.

New survey to assess needs and strengths of families.

How will the survey answers be used?

  • Survey results will inform the activities under the voter-approved Best Starts for Kids initiative.  For our region to continue to prosper, everyone should get a fair opportunity to succeed, regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, or where they live in the County. The survey will help focus attention on the needs of local families. BSK will fund programs related to:
    • Investing early to optimize children’s health and well-being before age 5.  Possible examples: providing parenting support; expanding preventive screening.
    • Continuing the investment to sustain the gain from ages 5 through 24.  Possible examples: mentoring; stopping the “school-to-prison” pipeline.
    • Preventing youth and family homelessness and promoting safe and healthy communities.
    • Investing in communities that have been left behind with the changing economics of our region.
  • Survey results will provide vital baseline information about King County children.  Follow-up surveys in 2018 and 2020 will track the effectiveness of BSK activities.

What are the benefits of participating?

  • Broad participation will ensure that the diversity of King County’s population is represented.
  • Participation will shape the futures of King County children, families, and communities.
  • Survey participants can compare their experiences with the rest of King County families.
  • Participants will be entered in a lottery; 1 in every 100 entries will win $150.

How will people participate?

  • Starting this September, randomly selected parents/guardians will be contacted about the survey.  They can complete it online, on paper, or over the phone.
  • The survey will be available in 6 languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese, and Somali.
  • Participants will answer questions about their child’s health, activities, and experiences; their family’s strengths and supports; and aspects of community and neighborhood life.

If you’re selected, make sure your voice is heard – please participate in the survey.

Find out more at  www.kingcounty.gov/bskhealthsurvey.      

Washington’s unfair taxes: Can they be fixed?

Washington has the most unfair state and local tax system in the country.”  That’s how the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy (ITEP) describes our state in their 2015 Who Pays? report.   With its heavy reliance on sales tax, Washington is a textbook example of a regressive tax state in which families with the lowest incomes pay the highest proportion of their incomes in state and local taxes.

Washington State Tax Disparities_2015

Source:  Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, Who Pays: A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All Fifty States (2015), based on 2012 income levels.

Low-income earners in neighboring states do not bear such a heavy tax burden.  The share of income paid in state and local taxes by Washington’s lowest income quintile is more than double the rates in Idaho and Oregon.  Conversely the share of income paid for state and local taxes by the richest 1% of Idaho and Oregon residents is 2.5 times greater than that paid by Washington’s top 1%.

wealth disparities blog 2

Income taxes are usually progressive, meaning that high-income earners are taxed at a higher rate than low-income earners.  The federal government imposes a progressive income tax, and so do most states.  As one of only 9 states without an income tax, Washington relies heavily on flat-rate sales and excise taxes to pay for government services.

These taxes take a bigger chunk out of lower-income budgets because everyone, regardless of income, pays the same rate.  Low-income and high-income buyers of a $30,000 car in Seattle, for example, will pay the same $2,970 in taxes (9.6% sales tax + 0.3% excise tax).  Similarly, flat-rate excise taxes are built into everyone’s bills for gas, utilities, telephone, internet, tobacco and alcohol products.

Washington’s sales and excise taxes are 61 percent above the national average.  According to the ITEP, “The poorest 20 percent of Washington taxpayers (earning an average income of $11,900 in 2012) actually face the highest overall state and local tax bill in the entire country, at 16.8 percent of income.”

How can Washington spread its tax burden more fairly?

The ITEP report and a companion document describe several effective state tax strategies to reduce the share of taxes paid by low- and moderate-income families:

  • Fund Washington’s Earned Income Tax Credit.  Federal Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) benefit low- to moderate-income working people, particularly those with children, by reducing the amount of tax owed or refunding taxes paid.  In addition to federal EITCs, more than half of the states offer EITCs to reduce the burden of regressive state and local taxes on working families.  In 2008, Washington was the first state without an income tax to pass legislation for a state EITC. However, an estimated 500,000 working families in the state have yet to benefit from the credit, as it has not been funded by the legislature.
  • Expand property tax “circuit breaker” credit to all ages.  Current program only protects elderly or disabled taxpayers from property-tax overload.
  • Create refundable low-income credits.  A policy that complements state EITCs, these credits would include older adults and adults without children – groups typically excluded from EITCs.
  • Create child-related tax credits similar to the federal income tax credit that helps offset child care expenses.
  • Establish a state income tax.

The report was produced by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).  For more on income and wealth inequality, see Communities Count’s latest Data Spotlight plus updates of national median wealth trendsmean wealth trendsrace/ethnicity wealth trends, and mean and median race/ethnicity wealth trends by age.  

Wealth Gap Widens

Federal wealth-building policies work well – for the wealthy

A new report by the Institute for Policy Studies grabbed headlines with a bold assertion:  “Without change, African-American and Latino families won’t match white wealth for centuries.”  Centuries!  Less heralded in the media but more relevant to speeding the journey to greater equity was the report’s exploration of federal and federally sanctioned policies that have protected the economic interests of predominantly white Americans and restricted access to wealth for people of color.  [For in-depth comparisons of the top 1% and the bottom 99% in King County, Washington state, and the U.S., see Communities Count’s latest home page Spotlight.]

wealth disparities blog   Communities Count   Tableau Public 2

Why wealth?

Income pays the bills, but wealth is a better indicator of economic security and opportunity.  Wealth provides an economic buffer that, according to the report, “helps families get through lean times and empowers them to climb the economic ladder.  Wealth is money in the bank, a first home, a college degree and retirement security – it’s the countless opportunities afforded by having savings and investments.”

In 2013, mean wealth for white households was 7 times greater than for Black households and 6 times greater than for Latino households.  If current trends continue, wealth disparities in 2043 will be even more extreme – an 11-fold difference between Blacks and whites and a 7-fold difference between Latinos and whites.

wealth disparities blog   Communities Count   Tableau Public

 

The report documents disparities in home ownership, employment, income (and differential returns on income), economic resilience, educational attainment (and returns on education), business ownership (and value of businesses owned), retirement savings (and access to employer-sponsored retirement plans), and exposure to “wealth-stripping products and services.”

Many of these disparities can be traced to past and/or ongoing discrimination.  But the heart of the report is its hard-nosed focus on policy.

Federal wealth-building investments after the Great Depression

The report details the huge investments made by the federal government to help American households recover from the Great Depression and World War II.  And it describes how these investments, by design or accident, could not be accessed equitably by people of color.  For example,

  • Real-estate “redlining” – a widespread discriminatory practice sanctioned by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) – restricted access to mortgages by racial and ethnic-group minorities, differentially excluding them from “the opportunity to invest in the largest driver of wealth in this country: a home.”  From 1934 until redlining was banned by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, households of color received just 2% of FHA loans. [See Public Health Insider for possible associations between redlining and health outcomes in King County.]
  • The Social Security Act of 1935 excluded farmworkers and domestic workers (primarily people of color) from coverage.
  • The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 excluded several tip-based professions (such as shoe shiners, domestic workers, servers, and Pullman porters – all with predominantly Black workers) from the U.S.’s first minimum-wage protections.
  • The benefits of 1944 G.I. Bill – which has provided millions of veterans with access to low-cost home mortgages, low-interest business loans, tuition assistance, unemployment compensation, and support for living expenses while in school – were not distributed fairly.  Biased local administration prevented many veterans of color from getting home loans, business loans, and placement in skilled and semiskilled jobs.

Current wealth-building policies: Is history repeating itself?

Through the federal tax code, the U.S. spends “more than a half trillion dollars annually to help households build wealth,” according to the report.  But many current wealth-building policies “continue to heavily favor households that do not need help building wealth while doing little or nothing for low-wealth households of color.”

Annual taxation-related expenditures to build wealth include programs to support home ownership, increase accessible savings through investments and inheritances, give preferential treatment to retirement plans, and support higher education.  Using educational support as an example, the authors point out that 90% of higher education tax spending is in the form of after-purchase subsidies that can only be used by those who have the resources to front the costs of tuition, books, and other qualified expenses – something that may not be possible for many working families.

Suggestions for the future

After demonstrating the power of past federal policies, the report’s authors propose specific actions to align wealth-building policies with the needs of those who are not already wealthy:

  • Audit federal policies “to understand the role current federal policies play in perpetuating or closing the racial wealth divide.”
  • “Replace the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions with tax benefits that encourage and support home ownership among low-wealth families and communities of color.”
  • Expand eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to low-wealth workers and those without dependents; allow families to save a portion of their EITC as emergency savings.
  • Provide a simple, safe, and affordable retirement savings product to low-wealth families and households of color.
  • At birth, provide every child with a Children’s Savings Account (CSA).
  • Expand existing progressive taxes.
  • Explore a dedicated wealth tax.

The report was jointly produced by the Institute for Policy Studies, the Corporation for Enterprise Development (cfed), and the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative, a cfed program.

See recent Communities Count updates of national median wealth trends, mean wealth trends, race/ethnicity wealth trends, and mean and median race/ethnicity wealth trends by age.  COMING SOON:  Communities Count blog about the impact of state and local tax policies on inequality.

Award-winning research links health risk to poor grades

1 in 5 King County teens is at risk of failing in school, and new research from Public Health – Seattle & King County revealed that the risk of academic failure was linked to students’ health. The data come from the 2012 and 2014 Washington State Healthy Youth Surveys in which 8th, 10th, and 12th graders answered almost 100 questions about themselves, their families and friends, and their experiences in school and the communities where they live.

Health and academic risk

Health-and-Academic-Risk-chart-1

Researchers looked at the relationship between academic risk (students who reported getting mostly Cs, Ds, or Fs in school) and more than 20 indicators of physical and mental health, such as food insecurity, unhealthy weight, and depressive feelings. The findings were clear: health risk and academic risk increased in tandem. While fewer than 15% of students with zero health risks were at academic risk, more than half of students with 11 or more health risks were at risk of failing.

Further analysis identified 9 categories of health risk linked to poor grades. Even after controlling for demographic factors such as geography, race, and parental education, researchers found independent links between these categories and academic risk.

Health and Academic Risk chart 2 (2)

For example, after controlling for demographics and other health risk factors, a student reporting a poor diet (low fruit/vegetable consumption or not eating breakfast) was 40% more likely to be at academic risk compared to a student who did not report a poor diet. Feeling depressed was one of the strongest predictors of academic risk: students who reported depressive feelings were almost twice as likely to be at risk of failing in school.

What does it all mean?

The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists highlighted the importance of this research with an award at their annual meeting. The researchers clearly demonstrated that health is an essential component of student achievement. In the future, supporting student health should be a key tool to helping all students achieve their potential. While quality teachers, administrators, and curricula will always be important, their successes might increase considerably if students had easy access to healthy food, physical activity, dental care, and could count on mental health support.

“Every young person in King County deserves to grow up healthy and live to their full potential,” said Kyle Yasuda, MD, FAAP, Medical Officer for Children and Families at Public Health. “To achieve this, it’s clear that we need to support the whole student, including their health needs.”

Click here to read the full report.  For more information about the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey visit www.AskHYS.net.