Las Cruces Sun-News, Learn & Earn Column – August 5, 2018
Yes, James Carville, an adviser to then-President Bill Clinton, famously used a version of this statement to stress the importance of improving the economy to meet the needs of the American people during the time of Clinton’s presidency.
However, today the economy is actually being held back by the challenging conditions created by the disconnect between jobs available and the qualifications of available people, also known as labor market shortages and the “middle skills gap.”
At a recent meeting at Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, it was indicated that human capital, also known as workforce, was the single greatest barrier to the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Across the region served by the Dallas Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, which includes southern New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, labor market shortages in middle or higher skilled jobs were identified as barriers to growth in every state.
While this is also true across the country, the critical issue of workforce is the single greatest barrier to transformation of New Mexico’s economic, health, and educational outcomes, as well.
Another lens on what could happen if we realize our potential comes from a report published by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation called The Business Case for Racial Equity in New Mexico. The foundation previously produced two national reports on the benefits of closing gaps across the country, but this is the first one specific to New Mexico.
According to the report, “New Mexico stands to realize a $93 billion gain in economic output by closing the racial equity gap, (which) means lessening and ultimately eliminating disparities and opportunity differentials that limit the human potential and economic contributions of people of color.” These gains would be realized in both consumer spending and the generation of state tax revenue.
The report projects 75 percent of New Mexicans will be people of color by 2050, so the importance of targeted efforts that include an equity lens are critically important, as we seek to equip our people, and especially our young people, with the tools they need to be the builders of New Mexico’s future.
Additionally, a recent Community Reinvestment Act listening session convened by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), revealed that while there are actually jobs available, there are still too many people living in poverty. Increasing high school graduation rates was pointed out as a good thing, but the lack of workforce readiness still presents the prospect of holding them and the community back.
The county’s unemployment rate of 6.4 percent (March 2018) is lagging behind the state (5.6 percent) and national rates (3.9 percent).
Perpetuating the situation is the high cost of childcare for potential workers, though the Children, Youth, and Families Division recently reported only 1 in 3 New Mexican parents are taking advantage of the childcare subsidies for which they are qualified.
Some families face transportation challenges, especially in the southern part of the county, which affects those who are actually closest to the 1,400 new jobs that were recently announced in Sunland Park and the Border Industrial Park. However, the increasing ridership and route expansion of the South Central Regional Transit system, along with the City of Las Cruces’ Roadrunner system, could help provide that critical service for potential employees.
The more deeply we, at The Bridge of Southern New Mexico and the Workforce Talent Collaborative have delved into the implementation of our ground-breaking workforce development plan, the more we realize our single greatest barrier is simple lack of awareness. This awareness gap inhibits our ability to maximize the impact of the millions of dollars allocated across our workforce system between the people who could benefit from what we have and those who make up the system.
This year, the Southwestern Region’s Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) board received more than $5 million to support this seven-county region in helping those who live here with access to a host of supports and services. Those dollars are also intended to help the business community to make strong connections with already vetted job candidates, as well as the prospect of accessing funds for training of employees and subsidizing the wages of new hires.
In fact, a new $500,000 initiative is currently underway for 16- to 24-year-olds who are neither in school nor working to gain access to both tuition assistance for training and education along with internships and on-the-job training to help qualify them for jobs that need them.
Yes, we actually do have all the resources we need to be successful here. Now that we are building relationships between organizations, educational institutions, agencies, and the people they serve, the people who make up our workforce will be well informed about how to take advantage of the systems and resources designed specifically to support them.
And when they do, our community’s economy can grow and thrive.