Brookings Institution examines economic opportunity in major metros; finding good jobs influenced by regional industry mix.

Education pays off, particularly for those with a postsecondary credential. We’ve written often about the importance of obtaining the training and certification increasingly required in today’s economy. 

A new Brookings Institution report, Opportunity Industries: Exploring the industries that concentrate good and promising jobs in metropolitan America, examines another part of the equation. How do regional economies affect economic opportunity. The research beings by acknowledging the role played by education and training:

…the debate about how best to promote upward mobility often begins and ends with a focus on education and skills. If workers can justobtain more education and job-specific training,the argument goes, they will become more productive, more resilient to economic change, and better able to earn higher wages. And there is no shortage of evidence demonstrating a clear link in the United States between educational attainment and income.

Yet,

there remain tens of millions of adults who are already part of the American workforce, and whose work schedule,family obligations, or financial situation preclude them from investing significantly in furthereducation and training. These workers deserve a shot over time at obtaining better jobs, with higher pay and benefits.

This report asserts that the structure of regional economies—in particular, the kinds of occupations and industries present and the relationshipsamong them—can influence outcomes for these workers. It identifies and explores a concept we call “Opportunity Industries.” These are the sectors of the economy that, based on a first-of-its-kind analysis of workers’ experiences over time, appear to offer the best chances for individuals—particularly those without four-year college degrees—to obtain a “good job,” one
that provides stable middle-class wages andbenefits. We examine the presence of these jobsand industries within the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, and how pathways to those jobs—including through “promising jobs” that represent stepping stones to good jobs over time—may differ for workers by race, gender, and educational attainment.

The analysis looks at three kinds of jobs:
  • Good jobs pay at least a metropolitan area’s median annual earnings for full-time, year-round sub-baccalaureate workers
    and provide employer-sponsored health insurance…
  • Promising jobs are entry-level positions that provide career pathways to good jobs.
  • Other jobs are those that do not meet the criteria of either good jobs or promising jobs.

As suggest above, the research focuses on opportunities for workers with less than a four-year degree. 

This report focuses on the types of good and promising jobs held by sub-baccalaureate workers, who face shrinking opportunities in many labor markets.

Spokane turns out to be at the top of the list:

  • The share of jobs that are good or promising jobs held by sub-baccalaureate workers varies considerably across the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. Nationwide, 21 percent of jobs in large metro areas are good or promising jobs held by sub-baccalaureate workers. This share varies, however, from a high of 35 percent of jobs in the Spokane,Wash. metro area to a low of just 9 percent of jobs in the Washington, D.C. metro area.

But the situation, even in Spokane, is problematic.

No large U.S. metropolitan area provides sufficient high-quality labor market opportunities for all the people who need them, especially workers without a bachelor’s degree. Even in Spokane, with the highest share of good and promising jobs for sub-baccalaureate workers, only half of its sub-baccalaureate workers hold one. Metro areas can begin to close these gaps by addressing factors that influence local labor market opportunity, such as industrial composition, workforce characteristics, wage levels, and growth dynamics.

The authors make several recommendations. (Read the report; it’s short.) We’ll cite this:

Third, education and workforce development institutions can prepare people for and connect them to today’s more demanding and dynamic labor market. The content of work changes rapidly today, even within occupations. New technologies constantly emerge, requiring continuous training and adaption. Meanwhile, workers may need to switch careers more often to stay ahead of change or access opportunity. These dynamics stress the growing importance of abstract cognitive abilities that enable people to thinkand learn by themselves. Specific knowledge and skills remain essential to getting a job, but keeping that job or finding a better one may require workers and institutions to adopt new modes of learning and teaching to succeed in today’s labor market.

Washington’s diverse and still-strong economy continues to generate extraordinary opportunities. With the right training and education, Washingtonians can take advantage of the “good jobs” awaiting them.