Working for the Weekend; Let’s Talk Human Capital

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Labor Day bookends the end of summer here in the United States with children heading back to school and adults fitting in one last backyard BBQ. If we’re being honest, the feeling on Monday night is excitement with a tinge of dread. For students, the fun of hanging out with your friends while learning new things (while NOT wearing masks) seems like a good deal. Yet many Americans are becoming more disenchanted with the education system. The Brookings Institution recently published a summary of a study showing that more people, especially those who identify as Republicans, give it very low marks. The antagonism derives from two motivations: a battleground for conservative culture wars and a drive to privatization of education. A more threatening swipe at public education came at the start of the summer when a few citizens in the town of Croydon were enough to vote down its school budget because they didn’t feel like paying to educate other people’s kids. (School parents rallied enough support to reverse the decision.) I wonder what these anti-public school advocates think would happen to kids when they grow up without a good or even basic education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows plainly that they will grow into adults who earn less than they might have and less than they need to live sustainably.

For those adults who make it through the K-12 education system, the BLS publishes a list of the fastest growing occupations, several of which are in the renewable energy sector. Wind turbine installation tops the list with an average annual salary of around $52,000 and concentrated in the wind generating states of Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois and employing about 120,000 nationwide. What the wind power industry has in quality, Amazon offers in quantity. In 2021, Amazon employed about 1.6 million people in the US with a starting salary of $29,000 for high school graduates. While it has made commitments to provide college education to its workers to help them continue to develop skills along with their experience, labor conditions plague its labor relations. Self-organized workers were successful at instating a union at a facility in Staten Island last summer. Having taken over two years to organize, I can’t help but think it would be more efficient for everyone if people could build the education and skills they need for the workforce in school as young people instead of working full-time while studying, parenting, friending and living the rest of their lives.

Kate Starr, Chief Investment Officer

Adding additional stress to the public school system is a nationwide teacher shortage. While shortages have been a longstanding feature of certain areas of study (such as high school math) and in certain parts of the country (largely rural areas), a recent study has found that there are now over 36,500 vacancies nationwide, and over 163,500 positions currently held by teachers who are not entirely certified or who are not certified in the subjects they are teaching.

The well-known Malala Fund has been working to promote girls’ education in Afghanistan and elsewhere since being founded by Malala Yousafzai in 2013. Having expanded its work to Pakistan, India, Turkey Nigeria, Ethiopia and Brazil, the NGO builds networks of champions within countries to create equal opportunity to education for women and girls.

For anyone looking to learn something new (sewing, tap dancing, oyster shucking anyone?) look no further than Course Horse. The online platform consolidates thousands of learning opportunities in person in major cities in the US or online.

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