State gains jobs but not desired ones
When you hear the phrase there is good news and bad news, you know what is coming probably is not something you want to hear.
That is how I felt recently when I was reading a story from Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services about the employment picture in Arizona.
The good news part was that our state is starting to gain momentum in adding jobs after the Great Recession and should continue to do so for the rest of the decade. I think all of us can cheer that news.
But here's the other shoe dropping. Aruna Murthy, director of economic analysis for the Arizona Department of Administration, said in the story that many of the jobs that will be added are service-type jobs and that probably isn't the best news for either workers or the state.
The trend to service jobs is not unique to Arizona. It is a nationwide trend that has come in the wake of the decline in manufacturing and factory jobs. And Arizona, after all, is a popular tourism area so it is probably to be expected that service jobs would have a prominent role.
Still, when three-fourths of the new jobs are in that area, as Murthy predicted, then it is a problem.
The reason is not because the work is unworthy — it most certainly is and those in the service industry often work quite hard. No, the problem is that those jobs tend to be lower paying than other types of work, especially here in Arizona.
That makes it harder for people to make a good living and impacts the state's economy in general because they have less money to spend. It also impacts state tax revenues and education.
For example, the Yuma Union High School District recently announced it will put a big emphasis on preparing students for college and post-secondary education. That's a very good thing for a couple of reasons. First, the students who go on to get more education will likely have better jobs opportunities and earn more during their lifetimes. Second, it helps provide a skilled work force that can better compete in a world economy that increasingly relies on advanced technology. Third, better educated individuals are also likely to be better citizens.
Here's the problem. Those service jobs Arizona will be adding this decade don't require a higher education. That means some of those who go beyond a high school education may have to accept lower-paying jobs than they want in order to stay in Arizona or may have to move out of Arizona to get the jobs they want.
Education officials report that is already happening and many Arizona college graduates leave the state, taking with them the skills they have acquired here.
We don't have to accept this as our reality.
We can change it if our state leaders and community leaders want to do it.
The key is to diversify our state's economy so that it is more representative of the entire spectrum of business activity. There are high-tech companies in our state offering higher-paying jobs, but not enough of them. There are manufacturers in our state, but again not enough of them.
We do need service workers and many individuals want these jobs. They will even line up to get them. But we also need highly skilled jobs and manufacturing jobs.
These jobs aren't going to show up like a Christmas gift. We have to actively seek them and provide an atmosphere and work force that will attract these kinds of businesses. We can't just wait for these jobs to arrive — they have to be actively sought through incentives and other means.
Other states are doing this, and if we don't do the same, we many end up with mostly lower-skilled and lower-paying jobs despite our best efforts to give students better educations.
Terry Ross is director of the Yuma Sun's News and Information Center. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Telephone: 539-6870.