A new report from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce finds that post-secondary education is one of the greatest protections in an economic downturn and increasingly the only path to the middle class. This is not surprising. What is, though, is just how significant the demand for additional education will be for North Carolina in just eight years.
Workers with post-secondary education in North Carolina weathered today’s economic storm far better than those with less education. Over the course of this Great Recession, unemployment among high school dropouts increased by 225 percent and among those with high-school diplomas it jumped by 250 percent. And while workers with college degrees have not been immune from the severity of this recession, their unemployment rate lifted by a much lower 110 percent.
But, of course, protection alone is not the role of post-secondary education. The report also demonstrates that some type of post-secondary education propels a household into the middle class and beyond. National analysis shows that the disappearance of the middle class has been driven by household’s dispersal into the lower and upper class. For those with just a high school diploma, the majority enjoyed middle-class status in the 1970s. But by 2007, only 1 in 3 could claim the same status. The majority of those with a high school diploma had moved to the lower end of the income distribution.
The recession has accelerated economic shifts in North Carolina that have been going on for decades. The promise of a family-sustaining job with minimal post-secondary education today is even further out of reach than it was in 2007. And by 2018, nearly 2 out of 3 jobs in our state will require some post-secondary training.
It is clear that as we tackle the job-creation challenges in our state, North Carolina needs to be considering the types of jobs that will be created and the skills that will be required to fill them. Investing in education and training opportunities for workers to be able to contribute to the future economy and rebuild the middle class in our state will immediately require adequate funding of community colleges and greater connections between our economic development and workforce development planning.