Job numbers are bouncing back to 2008 levels, but the recovery isn’t being felt evenly by everyone. While new jobs are being added to the rolls, many occupations remain in decline, leaving those with a high school degree or less struggling in the job market.
According to Erin Currier, director of financial security and mobility research at The Pew Charitable Trusts, there’s no question that everyone has been hit in the economic recession. Across the board higher rates of unemployment, lower wages and lower average work hours are affecting workers. But, the impact is most pronounced among those with less than a four-year college degree.
"Those who have access to some higher education are significantly more upwardly mobile," she said.
For Latino immigrants with a high school degree or less and for recent Latino high school graduates, the changing landscape of the economy poses a tough challenge.
Latinos work in construction; restaurant and hotel industries; wholesale and retail trade; and professional and other business services—some of the sectors most impacted in the recession.
According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, during the recession, the construction sector shed more than half a million Latino immigrant workers. As of 2013, these construction jobs had not returned.
From 2000-2013, many entry-level jobs, including Word processor operators and telephone operators, declined by 60 percent.
Meanwhile, jobs that required more specialized training, such as systems managers, software engineers and data analysts, popped up in nearly every industry. And the trend is growing.
"Two thirds all jobs are going to require some kind of post secondary education, some kind of degree or some kind of credential," said Kent McGuire, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Education Foundation. "The sooner you get kids thinking about this, the better."
The High-Tech Jobs Shift
According to Professor Anthony P. Carnevale, who directs the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the loss of entry-level jobs can be traced back even further.
In the 1970's, he says, 70 percent of high school graduates could expect to obtain a middle class living without additional education. And, four-year college graduates could expect to earn even more, almost regardless of what they studied in college. All that changed when automation came in and global trade increased, thereby igniting the American transition from an industrial nation to a post-industrial service economy.
The New Job Market
Today, as many are saying across the internet, the extraordinary is the norm. And the new technology and service industry jobs are popping up faster than there are experts to train new workers for those jobs.
This makes for a system where what you study (whether via courses, certificates or degrees) is crucial to being able to access the labor market.
The White House has tried to bridge jobs gaps by bringing attention to ways to train older workers for new skills and underprivileged youth for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
In Miami, even the parks service has gotten involved by opening new computer centers throughout the city’s parks, in the hopes of getting more youth involved in coding.
That’s because we know that the opportunities lie in particular fields. In the current economy, two fields dominate in terms of earnings potential: STEM and business.
Highest Degree Does Not Equal Higher Pay
Making matters worse, many college graduates and even master’s degree holders are vying for the few entry-level jobs that are left.
"There is a fundamental change in the opportunities of the U.S. economy, such that college degrees don’t mean as much as they used to. Whether it’s a certificate, bachelor's or master’s—more and more what you make depends on what you take, on your field of study; the second reality is that you don’t earn the most money by having the highest degree level,” said Carnavale.
In the 2013 study, “Why are recent college graduates underemployed? looking at university enrollments and labor market, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity notes that more than a third (37 percent) of U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests require less than a four-year college education.
What can you do? In the short-term, experts foresee a continuation of the current trends. Job growth and pay is expected to be strongest in the STEM and business. Additionally, teaching, and healthcare fields are expected to see an increase in employment - especially as current workers retire.
Jimmy Pastrano, coordinator of Graduate Studies at the Florida State University Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, says that the key is getting experience in the field you want to work in and diversifying the courses you take in your post secondary studies and training. If your desired field is education for example, you should take a few teaching courses along the way.
"A geography major, for example, might want to consider adding education courses, so that when they graduate they can compete for cartography jobs and also for teaching jobs,” he said. “There's a great benefit in diversifying the courses."
Georgetown’s Carnavale adds that in order to meet the new realities, it's important to keep in mind how much your school of choice intends to invest in your education.
"Since 1994 more than 80 percent of young white Americans have attended the top 500 four-year colleges (these spend 2-5 times more per student). But, more than 72 percent (this is even higher for lower income students) of Hispanics go onto a community college or open admissions four-year college, even when their scores show they are capable of attending a top institution."
The issue according to Carnavale is that community colleges and open-admissions schools don't have enough funding and thus Hispanics who attend these schools receive increasingly less attention and resources. The impact translates, in part, to lower employment and wages in the future.
All of the experts interviewed for this story concluded that education was crucial in overcoming a tepid jobs recovery and taking advantage of the opportunities unfolding in the new market. The key then may be for students to do their homework on educational opportunities as related to schools, programs of study, skills and the jobs outlook in their state and nationally.
Currently 10 states are developing websites to help students carry out these comparisons. In Virginia, for example, you can visit one site to see how many students graduate from a specific program and how much they earn after graduation. And you can compare that program to others in the state. But, we are still a long way from public access to such comparatives at the two year college level and at the credential level, such as with certificates. So far the sites only focus on four year institutions.
For most students, summer is a welcome break from the demands of school. But it’s also a critical time for them to gain out-of-the-class experience that experts and educators say is key to helping close the achievement gap.
Which is where parents come in.
“Children spend only 20 percent of their waking time annually in formal classroom education,” explains M. Elena Lopez, Ph.D., associate director of the Harvard Family Research Project. “That leaves 80 percent of their time for exploring and enhancing their learning interests in non-school settings.”
Summer, she notes, is the time for parents to address educational gaps through family engagement focused on learning.
It’s a point that Meghan Borin, who teaches third grade at Woodward Elementary in DeKalb County, Georgia is quick to drive home.
She says [that] during the school year, background knowledge that her pupils bring into the classroom can make a difference between a successful student and one who struggles. Unfortunately, much of the year she spends her time explaining basic concepts.
“For example, we read about a little girl who goes to the beach. Well, [my students] couldn’t connect because they had never been to the beach. I end up explaining a lot and using a lot of visuals to bridge the information gaps.”
Borin adds that many of the parents in her class, which is overwhelmingly Latino, haven’t had much formal education themselves and that they often struggle to connect with in-class materials. Poverty and safety concerns also play a factor in how much exposure her students get.
“A lot of the kids go home and stay home because their parents don’t think it’s safe,” says Borin. “They don’t get out that much.”
Investing Time in Your Kids
But Karl Alexander, professor of sociology and the department chair at Johns Hopkins University, argues family income and status are not the sole determinants to whether kids gain the kind of non-school experience they need.
Alexander and other researchers spent 25 years tracking 790 students and their families, examining the connection between family educational activities and children’s future attainment. The results form part of his most recent book, "The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth and the Transition to Adulthood."
While parent’s income and status had a great influence on children’s educational outcomes, Alexander’s work at Johns Hopkins found that they were not all-defining. At the core, the difference in a child’s future success often came down to whether parents were able to invest time in their lives, whether they were able to go the local museum and library or not.
The difference that kind of time investment can make over the summer can come to as much as 1,080 learning hours and 245 more field trip hours for some students.
Using the Summer to Excel
According to Ashley Washington, director of Academic Success at The Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, a “lack of mental stimulation during the summer can mean steep learning loss.” But, there’s a lot that parents can do to offset the summer brain drain, including reading with their children, taking educational field trips and seeking math-related activities.
Schools can also play a part, says Oscar Cruz, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based Families in Schools.
Cruz points out that the efforts parents make to help support student achievement can be enhanced by the efforts schools make to engage parents. His organization will be holding a free event in July aimed at informing parents about how to make best use of the summer for their kids.
“Research has shown that the more the school does to make parents feel at home, the more parents engage, the faster student achievement goes up,” he says. “When schools effectively engage parents, math improves ten times faster and reading improves four times faster.”
For Lopez of the Family Research Project, the point to remember is that summer abounds with learning opportunities.
“We know that children learn anywhere and anytime,” she says, “and that family engagement happens not only in schools but wherever students learn, like in afterschool programs, libraries, or museums.”
Summer Learning Resources
Parent involvement, especially in K-8th grade, and parent academic motivation throughout K-12th grade is associated with academic success. Here’s a list of ways to keep your child engaged during the summer in select cities:
New York City: Cool culture offers free passes to income-eligible pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students to countless museums and cultural venues.
Memphis: Explore Memphis Passport for kids 12 and under offers prizes that kids can earn and win by logging their reading and by checking into Memphis museums like the Brooks Museum of Art, which is free on Wednesdays, and the Art Museum at the University of Memphis, which is always free, throughout the summer.
Atlanta: Take part in the Boys and Girls Club of Children’s Museum of Atlanta, which is free the second Tuesday of every month.
New Orleans: Join the New Orleans Recreation Department’s low-cost summer camp for children ages 4-12. Visit local museums on their free days. And, join the No Kid Hungry program.
Miami: Join the Miami-Dade public library’s summer reading program. And, visit local museums on their free days.