America's Workers Need More than a Minimum Wage Hike
Jan 15, 2020
With middle-class wages at an all-time low, the debate over how to best boost mobility for workers rages on. According to the Pew Research Center, wages for the average U.S. worker have been largely stagnant for four decades.
By Maria Flynn / Real Clear Policy
With nearly 40 percent of families with a minimum wage earner living below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, conversations on how to address the challenge unsurprisingly focus on raising the minimum wage. In July, the House passed a “long-shot” bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. All but dead-on-arrival in the Senate, a cadre of lawmakers have, nevertheless, argued that the amount should be even higher.
Sadly lost in the debate is the reality that wage increases, alone, are unlikely to enable the sort of sustained social and economic mobility that proponents envision. If we are to make a lasting impact on the lives of American workers, raising the minimum wage is perhaps necessary, but certainly insufficient.
Workers need more than a new minimum wage: they need stronger investments in the kinds of training that will enable them to move into higher-paying roles. And they need it to happen on a nationwide scale.
Earlier this year, Jobs for the Future announced the winners of its Billion Dollar Challenge, which aimed to find new ideas to raise the annual wages of at least 100,000 workers by $10,000 or more by the end of 2021. The winning organizations — Cell-Ed Works and EMPath — focus on creating innovative ways to increase the wages of low-income workers through mobile-first career coaching and brain science-informed mentoring. Both are driven by the belief that today’s low-income workers can benefit greatly from training services that can provide them with the skills they need to advance beyond minimum wage jobs and other low-paying positions.
Such training should be highly flexible and accessible, as well as tailored to the needs of low-income workers. A 2016 analysis from the U.S. Department of Education and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that about 36 million adults in the United States are “low-skilled,” meaning they lack the skills necessary for meaningful employment. Other estimates put that number closer to 100 million, and the amount will only grow as technology continues to dramatically alter the world of work.