How Can Georgia Achieve Employment Equity?
By Che Watkins of The Center for Working Families
As we embark upon a new year, it is always good to take stock of where we are and make adjustments. I am going to work out one extra day a week and eat better. While I am exploring new exercise classes, I also hope that my state of Georgia is doing some self-assessment as well. There are two big things that we talk about when it comes to the economy of Georgia – the first is that there are a ton of jobs out there but no one to fill them. That is what we call the “skills gap.” People are not currently trained for the jobs of today but we have made some progress. The second issue is the “income and wealth gap” – the divide between classes. This is a more difficult thing to fix, but it is possible. I have recently read a report that The Center for Working Families participated in that gives me hope.
The Partnership for Southern Equity, PolicyLink, and the Program for Regional and Environmental Equity at the University of Southern California recently released a new report ‘ Employment Equity: Putting Georgia on the Path to Inclusive Prosperity’ – which talks about what the economic benefits would be if there were full employment for all in the state of Georgia.
Despite Georgia’s booming economy, 1.7 million adults are economically insecure. Believe it or not, half of those folks are working, but they don’t make enough to support a family. This is a significant issue for women and people of color, whom are over-represented among the economically insecure. If leaders at the state and local level worked together to ensure that there was full employment for all, Georgia could have seen $12 billion in additional economic activity (more than half of the state’s entire budget).”
The report notes that “Georgia’s future competitiveness depends on the participation and inclusion of all of our residents, especially those who are locked out of the economy.” But, what does it mean that people are “locked out of the economy”? Understanding that is truly key to unlocking this economic potential for our state. First, it means that we have to honestly look at the racial gaps in unemployment and wages. African-American unemployment is 9% in the state while white unemployment is 4.5%. Fewer workers earn a living wage now than in 2000 and the racial inequities have widened. According to analysis by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, of all jobs added since the recession, 43% of them are in low-wage industries (paying under $31,600 per year).
Being locked out also means that working towards financial security when you are in poverty is harder than most believe. Here are just a few of the things that we need to address:
1. Childcare – The average annual cost of center-based care is $7,600 for an infant and a low-income family can expect to pay nearly 40% or more of their income on childcare, according to the report. More subsidies are needed and we have to help employers expand childcare benefits for low-wage workers.
2. Transportation – We have had this conversation and we know what the solutions are – expand public transit systems that connect to job centers.
3. Criminal Records – According to the report, more than 2.6 million people have a criminal record in Georgia. Georgia is making progress in this space and there is a growing base of employers that are committed to hiring returning citizens. We have to keep moving forward on this issue.
4. Affordable housing and displacement – Redevelopment leads to higher property taxes which leads to residents being forced to move.
The Georgia Legislature comes back to town this month and I am almost positive that they would love to have seen another $12 billion in economic activity! Full employment for all would mean 384,366 more people connected to work, 114,546 fewer people in poverty and $2.4 billion in additional tax revenue to invest in needed services like education and workforce development.
Our role is to dismantle the barriers that prevent people from accessing jobs. This must be a part of Georgia and Metro Atlanta’s “to do” list.