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Increasing Access to Living Wage Jobs

Washington’s economy is the fastest growing in the nation, with an unemployment rate under five percent. But many Washingtonians still don’t earn a living wage. Employment support, training, and education help people secure higher-paying jobs, and higher wages allow individuals and families to better support themselves and their communities, as well as help reduce poverty, increase the purchasing power of workers, reduce housing instability, and reduce expenses for government programs.

As businesses, industries, and workplaces become increasingly complex, employers need workers with the skills and education that allow them to adapt and excel in evolving environments. More than three-quarters of projected job openings will require education beyond high school, with two-thirds requiring mid-level education or higher.

Factors That Influence Earning a Living Wage

Education – In 2013, the median weekly earnings of U.S. workers with a high school diploma was $179 more than those without a high school diploma. The median weekly earnings of workers with a Bachelor’s degree was $457 more than those with a high school diploma. Workers with a professional degree had the highest median weekly earnings. 

Training, education and apprenticeships in high-wage fields – The state’s community and technical colleges have worked to increase the number of STEM degrees awarded. Since 2012, STEM degrees awarded has grown by 55 percent. Gov. Inslee launched Career Connect Washington to increase apprenticeships and other career-connected learning opportunities to give students real-world experience with specific employers, career tracks or industries. Data from existing apprenticeship programs show that nine months after leaving college, 94 percent of students who finished apprenticeship programs in 2014-15 were employed, with a median wage of $34 per hour.

Employment – Securing employment is an important step, and work experience is positively linked to wages. In 2017, 69 percent of WorkSource WA participants obtained jobs, up from 53 percent in 2012. The national average is 51 percent. 

Supply of jobs – Job growth helps keep unemployment low. The state added more than 119,000 jobs from October 2017 to October 2018.

What We Are Doing To Deliver Results
  • The state’s job match website, WorkSourceWA.com, supports Registered Apprenticeships in Washington, and ApprenticeshipWA.com launched in 2018 to better assist job seekers and employers. More than 15,000 participants take part in more than 200 different Washington state apprenticeship programs, and Gov. Inslee is working to expand state apprenticeship programs
  • As a partner in Washington’s WorkSource system and the American Job Center Network, the state’s Employment Security Department helps people – unemployed or not – find jobs and learn new skills. The department helps jobseekers experience the life-changing Power of a Job and works with businesses to find employees.  
  • In spring 2017, Governor Inslee launched the Career Connect Washington initiative to connect 100,000 students during the next five years with career-connected learning opportunities that prepare them for high-demand, high-wage jobs.  
  • The state is pursuing opportunities to reduce the financial burden of higher education for low-income students, and address college affordability for all state residents. Research shows there is a link between financial aid and graduation rates. Gov. Inlsee included in his 2019-21 budget proposal a new Washington College Promise Scholarship (formerly State Need Grant) for more than 93,000 students in 2022. Funding covers 6,000 students in the 2019-20 academic year and 12,000 students in the 2020-21 academic year.
  • The Department of Commerce works directly with industry leaders on recruiting new companies to Washington and growing key industries. The department targets business-attraction and expansion activity on middle-income job growth opportunities, particularly in rural counties. Washington's Employment Security Department and Department of Commerce collaborate on rural workforce pipeline development around manufacturing and other key middle-income job generating sectors.
  • The Department of Commerce’s Economic Gardening Program targets small and mid-sized businesses, delivering tailored business accelerator training aimed toward job growth for small businesses.

Performance Dashboard

Objective: Expand Number of Skilled Workers