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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Not enough Hoosiers are connected to good jobs

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More people need training for good jobs — not jobs that pay above the poverty line, jobs where they can save money and afford health care. In Indiana, only about 40 percent of workers work in these jobs.

This is bad for the economy. And if more people are not attached to good jobs, the problem is likely to get worse. Lauren Smith has one of those good jobs. It operates semi-trailers to transport goods for a company called First Call Logistics. Through her experience, most people have never heard of the type of work she does.

“There are a lot of people I know – even my best friends – who ask me ‘What are the logistics?’ “What are you doing?” Smith said.

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I learned about logistics from a professor at Ivy Tech Community College, where I earned certifications and training to take a job in the field. Smith didn’t know much about logistics when she started school. She was studying for a general degree and working at Cabela’s as a part-time sales partner. Then faculty members put her in touch with employers looking to hire—like the managers at First Call.

“For people who are really looking for a well-paying job, or a really great job, here it is,” Smith said. “I never thought I would get here. But I did with the help of Ivy Tech. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”

Lots of people stuck do not-so-good jobs in retail and other service industries. The estimated number of such people in the Indiana workforce is 1.3 million. Brookings Institution research suggests that number will rise. He gives these reasons:

  1. The amount of good jobs in the state is small and growing very slowly.
  2. Not enough people are trained to take on the good jobs we have.
  3. This lack of talent — and some of the things that come with it — prevents companies from creating good jobs here.
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Hence it is a self-cycle – fewer good jobs means more people have to take lower paying jobs in service industries.

Mark Morrow, author of the Brookings report, said the cycle began with the decline in manufacturing.

“What happened in Indiana, and many other states, is that the erosion of this sector has pushed a large number of workers into lower-wage service industries,” Morrow said.

The number of workers in low-wage jobs has increased by 86,000 in the past decade. On top of that, the pandemic has wiped out tens of thousands of good jobs across the state that would have been accessible without a college degree.

These shifts reflect Indiana’s labor market segmentation, in which middle-wage occupations are primarily being replaced by lower-wage occupations. This increases poverty, strains social service systems, and fewer people have the money to spend and support other industries. Good jobs provide the basis for regional prosperity and modest livelihoods. The average wage for a good job in Indiana is about $36,900 per year.

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Meanwhile, the top 10 percent of earners in the state have been seeing the biggest wage growth in the past decade. Indiana struggles with large gender, racial, and educational pay gaps.

While 65 percent of Hoosier workers with a bachelor’s degree work in a good job, only 33 percent of those with a lower education do. Additionally, while 50 percent of male workers in Indiana have a good job, only 33 percent of women do. Likewise, more than 44 percent of white workers in the state have a good job, compared to just 30 percent and 25 percent of black and Latino workers.

Since many would agree that this is a problem, a growing number of groups – including Ivy Tech – are working to attract people into areas such as logistics, construction, and advanced manufacturing because they are in high demand, well-paid and provide the opportunity to build new skills. Those skills gained in a good job help break the cycle in another way – they open up more higher-paying job opportunities to get a job.

If your job doesn’t offer learning opportunities – then what?

“Sometimes we think of it as a dead end,” said Emily Ahonen, a former professor at Indiana University who studies precarious employment.

She said that many jobs are limited to a few duties or tasks.

“If someone quits that job, their ability to speak to the ability to do something else is limited because they didn’t do anything else,” Ahonen said. “Because that’s how the job was structured, there was no way to expand your skills or evolve in this job because the job was designed that way.”

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This prevents the economic mobility of the individual. When you’re stuck in a not-so-good job, it can be hard to get a better job. That’s why some employers invest in their employees by providing the training and resources they need – including a living wage.

That was the case for Kyle Ford. She worked as a food service manager most of her life. When Ford arrived in Indianapolis, she was running away from a domestic violence situation and finding it difficult to find work.

“Because of COVID, there were a lot of hiring restrictions at the time,” Ford said. “So I wasn’t able to find work in the area where I held a position for years.”

Then I called Goodwill in central and southern Indiana—one of the companies the Brookings report on the Indiana economy had highlighted as a company that creates good jobs. They taught her what she needed to know to do her job and eventually were hired as a shift leader. They also attached it to housing and other social services to make it stand on its own two feet.

READ MORE: In Northeast Indianapolis, Business Is Pushing Boundaries in a Direction to Address Community Disinvestment

“I think they’re called bypass services for a reason,” Ford said. “I feel like Goodwill takes their arms and completely wraps them around a human as if it’s saying, ‘I care about you. “

In January, Ford will be among the first employees at a new manufacturing site on the East Side. It’s part of a partnership called Project 38 and the Sheridan Project that is expected to create about 100 new jobs, especially for people who live near them.

Contact the WFYI Economic Equity Reporter Sydney Dauphinais at sdauphinais@wfyi.org. Follow on Twitter: Tweet embed.

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