Recently, I have been using this chart at the beginning of many of my presentations to educators, businesses and other community leaders. Although one must be careful not to read too much into one chart or data set, this has certainly caught the attention of many people who identify the “American Dream” with the likelihood of someone having a better economic prospect than their parents. For most of the millennials born in the early to mid-1980s that currently make up the largest portion of the labor force, the reality of earning more than their parents is now basically a coin flip.
However, this chart does not even begin to do justice to the systemic challenges facing many of our communities and historically underserved populations. Research shows that the U.S. has high levels of income inequality and lower than expected levels of socioeconomic mobility. When you take a deeper look into certain zip codes and neighborhoods of high poverty and low levels of educational attainment, the odds are much lower than 50% that you will earn more than your parents.
There is great opportunity for us in workforce development. At a time of historically low unemployment, businesses across the county, state and region are challenged with finding people to fill open job orders and clamoring to develop a pipeline of skilled workers to grow their business. There is tremendous momentum right now around finding better ways to align workforce development, education and business to invest in our current and future workforce to solve some of these challenges. This provides us a unique opportunity to have deeper conversations about how we train and educate populations that heretofore have been left behind in the labor market’s expansion over the past 10 years.