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Higher wages and a skilled workforce
October 17, 2018

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At no time in our state's history has the need for education and training after high school been more important. A Georgetown University Center for Education and Workforce report shows that by 2025, 68% of jobs in Iowa will require some education and training beyond high school. That means Iowa will need an estimated 127,700 more skilled workers than we have today.

Meanwhile, as more Iowans want to improve their income and continue education after high school, they are finding it harder to attain due to higher tuition and state budget cuts. Tuition at Iowa's community colleges is the third highest in the Midwest and higher than the national average. From 2010 to 2018, tuition and fees at Iowa's 15 community colleges have increased by 37%.

According to a 2017 report, Iowa ranks 8th nationally in the proportion of students graduating with debt from college (65%). As state budget cuts have targeted higher education, the debt problem for students is also getting worse as students today are paying more than $8,000 in additional tuition and fees at Iowa's three state universities compared to just a few years ago.

Iowans have heard a lot from the Governor and Republicans about a program passed last session that they say will fix the workforce shortage in Iowa, called Future Ready Iowa. While it's a good talking point for them, the only significant state dollars invested in it are for "marketing" purposes, not actually helping people upgrade their skills.

The reality is, the program passed won't do much without investments that make job training and education after high school actually affordable for Iowa families.

There's no question we have to fix the skilled worker shortage we face. But it isn't just good for our economy, it also has great potential to raise wages for Iowans at a time when we desperately need it.

With today's stagnant wages, too many Iowans are now working two or even three jobs to make ends meet and pay their bills each month. A recent report found wages in Iowa continue to slide with real average hourly earnings decreasing 0.2 percent since last year.

Iowa's low wage problem was compounded recently when the Governor and Republican lawmakers overturned wage increases for 65,000 Iowans. Instead of allowing local communities to raise wages, they decided Iowa's minimum wage, at just $7.25 per hour, was good enough. Of course the reality is much different. To meet basic living expenses, a single person in Iowa resident should make at least $13.16 an hour and that rises to $21.52 an hour for a single parent with one child.

House Democrats believe it's time for the Legislature to work together and get back to the basics again. It means raising wages for Iowans. It means working together to keep job training and higher education affordable for every Iowan. It means expanding job training opportunities so Iowans can get the skills they need to land a job with good wages.

State Representative Mark Smith of Marshalltown serves the 71st District in the Iowa House and is the Iowa House Democratic Leader.

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