The Changing Labor Market Demands Better Access to Basic Needs & Wraparound Support

Despite headlines still forecasting an impending recession, robust demand for workers continues. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show there are more jobs than available workers. This has led to increasing worker mobility, rising wages, and more hours for those in the workforce. However, while jobs are plentiful and accessible, entering and advancing on career pathways that lead to lasting economic prosperity remains a challenge.

For millions of low-income families that are disproportionately people of color, skills training to get into a valuable and satisfying career remains out of reach. This is not because of the cost of education itself – over half of US states including Washington offer free tuition at community and technical colleges for low-income students. The obstacle is the cost of basic needs.

A recent survey by Western Washington University found that HALF of all currently enrolled students in our state experienced food or housing insecurity, with 1 in 10 experiencing homelessness in the last year. While wages have risen, the cost of housing, food, and other essentials have crushed the purchasing power of those gains. Engaging in skills training often requires sacrificing hours on the job, a choice that many families just cannot afford to make.

At SJI we exclusively serve low-income job seekers that face such barriers to economic empowerment. We aim to overcome this with our community partnerships, wraparound services, and on-ramp training programs. Over the last year, we have embedded stipends into our programs to help cover basic needs while individuals skill up. This alleviates the lost income from low-wage jobs to help people start careers. As a result, we have seen a higher number of enrollments, completions, and wages earned in new careers.

Now is the time for the workforce system to take advantage of this labor market to improve access to basic needs and wraparound assistance for adult learners. Too often our systems make accessing aid for cost of living expenses unnecessarily difficult, and those that make it through often find scant budgets for their essential needs. By gathering the resources already in the system and seeking investments in aiding those most in need, we can fill the empty seats in colleges, supply the talent our great companies need to succeed, and turn the tide on growing economic inequity.