Based on unemployment rates, rural economies appear to be recovering from the great recession. Moreover, plenty of anecdotal and other data provides evidence that many rural employers have jobs available and no one to fill them.
At the same time, the most recent American Community Survey data documents more than 1.5 million rural residents who are working poor – meaning they are working but earning below the federal poverty rate, and living one emergency away from losing their job. Other would-be rural employees aren’t filling the vacant jobs because they lack training or can’t manage their family commitments while working the hours employers require.
What to do in these situations? Rural business, non-profit and education innovators are implementing strategies to help rural residents earn credentials for better jobs in their future, access the services they need outside of work to land and keep a job, and stabilize the family finances and situations of rural employees so they can start saving and planning to get ahead. The result is good not just for rural employees, but for their families, area businesses and the economy overall.
ARO’s October dialogue will highlight a range of rural-grown innovations to help families get into and get ahead in rural jobs.
Danielle Paquette, Reporter, Washington Post
Paquette addresses the intersection of people and policy for the Washington Post, covering topics from wage gaps to child care to business recruitment. Hailing from Indianapolis, she has previously worked for the Tampa Bay Times, the Los Angeles Times and CNN.
Employer Resource Networks: Rural Businesses Band Together to Help Employees Do Better
Lynne Russell, Executive Director, United Way of Mason County, Michigan
Ludington, Michigan – Too often, financial crises and life events can sabotage an employee’s ability to stay focused and on the job. Barriers like financial emergencies, unreliable transportation and family health crises can threaten an employee’s ability to stay on the job – and contribute to attrition and turnover. Finding and training new employees costs businesses a lot in time and money. In rural Michigan, the local United Way and employers have come together to set up the Lakeshore Employer Resource Network (ERN) of Mason County. In ERNs, local businesses jointly sponsor a circuit-riding success coach who helps employees in the participating businesses find essential services like affordable housing and child and dependent care. The coaches also help workers manage through financial crises, including offering an instant loan product that helps families improve credit scores and build an emergency fund. In Mason County, 12 ERN employers are now providing these services to 20% of the county’s workforce – and saving money while doing it!
Boosting Educational Attainment in a Boom and Bust Economy
Greg Williams, President, Odessa College, Texas
Odessa, Texas – In West Texas, oil remains the largest economic driver even though times are changing. But because of oil jobs, work requiring a degree doesn’t always pay more. Convincing workers that pursing college degrees, certification programs, and additional training is a smart bet for the long run is a challenge. Odessa College, the region’s community college, took a look at the economy and itself, and instituted program innovations that are successfully growing enrollment and improving student outcomes. To recruit and keep students engaged, Odessa has shrunk the typical term from 16 weeks to eight weeks. They’ve implemented a Drop Rate Improvement Program that encourages faculty to interact directly with students, address behavior challenges early, and meet students one-on-one. Together, these approaches cut course drop rates six-fold and doubled Odessa’s completion rate – setting up Odessa’s students to succeed in the region’s changing economy.
The Quiet Rural Crisis: Increasing Child Care Access, Quality and Worker Income
Sheila Hoyle, Executive Director, Southwestern Child Development Commission, North Carolina
Webster, North Carolina – If you spend time with rural families and employers, it’s hard not to see child care as the silver bullet that many rural economies need to do better. Rural employers struggle to find good workers to fill their job openings, at the same time that parents who want to work can’t take a job because of the shortage of affordable, safe, local child care slots during the right hours. It’s hard to supply enough quality child care slots when child care workers are paid so little –many qualifying as working poor. And as a result, too many rural kindergarteners start elementary school already behind. For more than a decade, Southwestern Child Development Commission has been experimenting with programs that show promise in addressing many of these needs. One innovation provides a salary supplement for child care workers; and as an incentive to increase their skills, more highly trained workers receive greater supplements. SCDC’s idea: Through a better trained and better compensated child care workforce, child care slots and quality will increase, children will do better – and so will their parents and local employers.
Documenting the Issues: Rural Data Realities
Beth Mattingly, Director of Research on Vulnerable Families, Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire
Beth manages all of Carsey’s policy-relevant research relating to the well-being of vulnerable families and policies that affect the balance the work and family life. Beth is also a research consultant for the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality. She has helped develop innovative measures like the California Poverty Measure and research to help understand Hispanic poverty and inequality. Her work has been published in multiple academic journals, and featured in Time Magazine, USA Today, and on National Public Radio.