Los Angeles County’s Education Catch – 22

I read with little to no amusement an article in Monday’s Los Angeles Times entitled, “L.A. Is The Bad Jobs Capital of The US.”   Wow! So knock me over with a feather! Truth be told, a blind man could have seen that one coming; Or, at least a blind man living in Los Angeles County. The article cited a recent report from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, stating that only 21% of Angelenos over the age of 25 have a high school diploma and nothing more. This is compared to 11% for the country as a whole. The article then went on to mention a silver lining, and that is, 64% of entry-level jobs in Los Angeles County don’t require anything more than a high school degree. fast-food-workerSo if 64% of jobs require just a high school degree and nothing more (no trade school or additional certifications), what does that say about the jobs being created in Los Angeles County? And what does it bode for Los Angeles County’s employment future? In my humble opinion, it doesn’t bode well for Los Angeles County, California, or the nation for that matter. A skilled worker, whether they earned a college degree or have a trade, will earn more money and enjoy greater job security than those who only have a high school diploma. In 2015, Hans Johnson of the Pubic Policy Institute of California (PPIC) authored a report entitled, Will California Run Out of College Graduates? In the report he stated, “Today’s college graduates have better economic outcomes than those who do not hold a bachelor’s degree. Over time, college graduates have seen lower rates of unemployment and higher wages than other workers—even through the Great Recession—suggesting that college degrees have become increasingly valuable in California’s labor market.” Now if the workers filling that 64% of the jobs that require only a high school diploma were over qualified, that would be one thing. But that is probably not the case.  Two other PPIC reports from late 2016 arrived at the conclusion that the majority of students entering California’s community colleges were identified as unprepared for college. Not only are Los Angeles schools doing a poor job preparing their students for college, they’re doing a poor job preparing the students for life. In 2007 it was reported that the dropout rate for LA Unified (grades 9 – 12) was 26%. Although it has reportedly improved those statistics due to vigorous programs to reduce classroom size, it’s probably only better by a percent or two. Compare this to the national dropout average of 20%. In addition to LA Unified doing a poor job preparing students for lives as skilled workers, Los Angeles is home to some 3.5 million immigrants, roughly 35% of its population, perhaps the largest cohort of any region. The Urban Institute report entitled, “Immigrant Families and Workers ” concluded that roughly three-quarters of these immigrants had only limited English proficiency (LEP). A poorly trained workforce, lots of employment opportunities for low skilled/low paying jobs and a consistent and prolonged shedding of good, bread winner/manufacturing jobs is a Catch-22 scenario for Los Angeles County.   Why learn skills that will never be employed, and why put a company in a region that doesn’t have a skilled workforce? Going forward, the alternatives open to employers looking to hire a work force required to do little more than flip a burger, turn a knob or weed a driveway will be limited to automation/robotization or offshoring.

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