Back-to-School Success for Kids — and Adults

(Originally posted in the MLHS Blog – Factually Speaking)
by Gilda Z. Jacobs

Labor Day is over, and it’s back-to-school time in Michigan. But our kids are not the only ones in our state who need to hit the books. It’s time for policymakers to study up and implement changes to help adults in families across Michigan.

The League mapped out strategies in a recent report to help adult learners attain the credentials they need to become successful  workers. It’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff. We need these adult learners to be part of the talent pool for a successful economy that works for all by offering opportunity and lessening the need for government assistance.

As many as 1.7 million lack an essential skill such as reading, writing, math or English as a second language.

And the League’s Labor Day report, released in time for the Labor Day weekend, shows just how far we have to go. One in every 10 working families – the highest in the Midwest – lives in poverty, despite work. Poverty is $18,000 a year or less for a family of three and $23,000 a year or less for a family of four.

Except for Illinois, Michigan has the biggest share of low-wage jobs in the Midwest. A quarter of our jobs are considered low-wage jobs, earning $10.39 an hour or less.

Our report highlights the fact that although the unemployment rate has declined – it’s down to 9% from a high of 14.2% in August 2009 — the statistic only tells part of the story.

What it doesn’t tell you is that Michigan’s workforce has shrunk dramatically. We now have more “lost” workers (more than 500,000) than we have unemployed workers (about 400,000). The lost workers have retired early, become discouraged, moved or otherwise left the labor force without being replaced by young people entering the labor pool.

Only 60 percent of adults in the state are working, down from a high of 69 percent in 2000. For black workers, the numbers are even more sobering – only 42% of black adults are employed.

The adult learners’ report was the result of the League convening a Workforce Development Coalition to tackle workforce strategies. Workers need paid time off to manage family emergencies, for example. And Michigan should restore adult education funding, now at $22 million, to $80 million.

Detroit Free Press Columnist Rochelle Riley applauded the coalition’s conclusions. “We need to shout from the rooftops any clear-thinking pronouncements that point out what the state must (do) to improve its economy: Prepare the workforce,’’ Riley wrote.

So — just as we hope all of our children have a good start on a successful year — we’re hoping policymakers will become educated on the need to ensure that
parents have the skills and job opportunities to be successful themselves and provide for their families.