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This is Part 3 in our “Progress in Focus” series of blog posts highlighting the individual sections of the Progress Index. This post is focused on Good Jobs.
The cornerstone of a strong middle class is an abundance of well-paying jobs that allow workers to meet their basic needs and to get ahead. Lawmakers have opportunities to strengthen the middle class in Washington state right now. They can do this by increasing their investment in workers and their families. But this is dependent on whether lawmakers have the foresight to raise new revenue.
According to our Progress Index, Washington state has a lot going for it when it comes to jobs. Our state is nationally recognized for having one of the highest shares of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs (15 percent). With high median incomes, STEM jobs ($77,698) and STEM-related jobs ($68,984) are critical to the overall health of Washington state’s middle class.
But while the share of STEM jobs is relatively high compared to other states, the vast majority (85 percent) of jobs in Washington state pay far lower median wages ($45,574). In fact, the largest non-STEM job categories are retail sales, cashiers, and food service. And they all have median annual incomes below $25,000 – well below what it takes to meet basic needs in most places in the state.
The trend toward lower-wage work has been happening for some time. Indeed, wages for low- and middle-income workers have been stagnant for nearly four decades (see “At a Glance” table for a summary; and see the full Progress Index to review all the data we use to measure progress). Meanwhile, on the other side of the recession, all the income gains have gone to the richest 1 percent. In addition, investments in the kinds of things that workers need to do their jobs well – child care for their kids, after-school programs, a reliable bus system – have steadily declined or grown stagnant as well. This limits the potential of our state to create good jobs and produce a competitive 21st century workforce.
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Proposed Budget Investments
As they negotiate their budgets in Olympia, lawmakers can make a range of investments that would improve the economic security of workers and strengthen the potential of our workforce over time. Education – from early learning through higher education – has dominated the budget negotiations thus far. Lawmakers are keenly aware that these investments play a critical role in workforce development and the creation of good jobs, especially those in high-wage, high-skilled STEM occupations. But investing in education alone is not enough.
Good jobs and productive workers would benefit from a range of policies currently under consideration. Lawmakers should raise additional revenue to fund not only education, but also all of the other investments Washington state’s workers and economy need to thrive. Just a few of the policies that would lead to a healthier workforce in our state include:
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It takes investments to prepare a competitive workforce, create good jobs, and help workers get ahead. Additional resources are necessary. That’s why it’s vital that lawmakers adopt new source of revenue through a capital gains tax and by closing tax breaks, as the House budget proposes. Without such investments, we are likely to continue to see an increasing trend toward low-wage work. Which brings with it an increase in the number of people falling behind and struggling to make ends meet – or worse, falling into poverty. As the richest Washingtonians continue to be the only ones benefiting from income gains, this disparity is simply unconscionable.
To read our additional recommendations for how to improve our state’s jobs market, visit the Good Jobs section of our Progress Index. Stay tuned for “Progress in Focus” blog posts on the other sections of our Progress Index.