A recent study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows that, unless trends change, the South, most likely, will not rise again.
The survey shows that by 2020, the majority of the 16 southern states will have reached the 2010 national average for jobs demanding postsecondary education—only Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia will exceed the 2010 average.
The study finds the region—defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as including Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia—mired in a low-wage/low-skill equilibria that is keeping supply and demand for skilled workers balanced at the low end of the pay and educational achievement scale. Survey authors Anthony P. Carnevale and Nicole Smith state that the low-wage/low-skill equilibrium depresses wages and discourages the development of human capital.
“Industry has no incentive to locate in [southern] states, employers have no incentive to create jobs that require anything but low skill and pay, and workers have no reason to attain much beyond a minimum education,” writes Carnevale and Smith. The lack of incentives means that currently 59% of jobs in the country require postsecondary education; only 54% of jobs in the south have similar requirements. Carnevale and Smith project, national postsecondary employment requirements will rise to 65% by 2020 while southern postsecondary requirements will only rise to 59% during the same period.
Without a carefully crafted legislative approach that both emphasizes high-skill/high-wage jobs and increasing access to higher education state governments open themselves up to problems associated with population relocation, states the report. The main problem associated with population relocation or ‘brain drain,’ southern states are experiencing is the classic siphoning of highly trained workers for higher paying jobs elsewhere. However, the relocation of highly skilled workers is also leaving current residents of southern states stuck in low-paying positions.
One of the reasons for southern states lagging in jobs demanding postsecondary education is the industrial makeup of the region. The survey finds that the economies of southern states rely heavily on manufacturing, government, retail, and natural resources.
Carnevale and Smith find that, with 7 million jobs and 14% of employment, government is the number one employer in the south and public sector employment is expected to add another 1.1 million jobs by 2020. The survey states that retail trade is currently the second largest employer in the south, and is expected to employ 6 million people by the end of the decade. While other employment sectors, such as waste management services and healthcare services, are expected to grow quickly through 2020, the fastest growing sector is predicted to be natural resource extraction.
Even though the natural resources sector composes less than 1% of the national workforce, 41% of the sector’s jobs are in the south and the industry is only expected to grow. Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction are predicted to add 600,000 to 800,000 jobs over the next eight years.
Despite the predicted economic growth in the region many of the jobs are expected to remain on the low-skill/low-pay end of the spectrum, which has negative consequences for state revenue. The survey argues that if southern states doubled the amount of workers with a bachelor’s degree, they would increase tax revenue between 75% and 150%.
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