A Father’s Advice in the Face of a Changing Labor Market

“Dad, I want to be just like you when I grow up”. This is a recent statement that my teenaged son made in response to my questions about his future aspirations.  My initial response was “son, I want you to do better than your dad.”  As a parent, it is only natural to desire, and even expect your child to grow up to earn more than their parents.  However, the reality is that upward mobility is becoming increasingly more difficult for subsequent generations.  Studies suggests that young men earning more than their fathers at the same age has precipitately declined since 1940, from nearly 90% to just around 50%.  This means, as a parent, I may need to better understand contributing factors that may drive upward mobility today so that I can provide better guidance to my soon-to-be in high school son.

On the heels of this Father’s Day, LeadersUp reflects on conversations we’ve had with a number of our participants and learned that in general, millennials view success more broadly then simply earning more than the previous generation. The vast majority of our male participants are generally optimistic about their future and believe that they will earn more than their Fathers did by age 30.   However, the reality is that upward mobility is becoming increasingly more difficult for subsequent generations.  Studies suggests that young men earning more than their fathers at the same age has precipitately declined since 1940, from nearly 90% to just around 50% for Generation X and older millennials.

In America, the traditional education-to-employment pipeline is leaky.  Many students do not complete and those that do, are now less likely to land jobs following graduation.  Statistically, it is estimated that nearly one-third (32%) of all ninth graders, my son’s peers, will graduate from high school (84%), attend college (66%) and earn a credential (57%) in the traditional way I did, and if they do, it is expected that over two-fifths (43%) of recent college graduates will land jobs they are essentially overqualified for immediately following graduation.  This increases the likelihood of them remaining underemployed well into their careers.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves “what are some other factors that we should consider that may contribute to upward mobility and what new advice should we be providing based on new insights?” Readers may be surprised to learn what can contribute to upward mobility and how workforce intermediaries are critical partners to millions of parents and their children across America.

For the First Time in U.S. History, Children will Earn Less than their Parents

Fewer children growing up in America are likely to earn more than their parents once they reach adulthood – a common measure used to gauge economic success, mobility and the inequality of opportunity.  For LeadersUp, a talent development accelerator committed to disrupting inefficiencies within local workforce systems, upward mobility is a desired outcome for the thousands of young adults we serve across the country.  Understanding the perceptions and intrinsic motivations of our program participants is critical to driving and sustaining employment outcomes, an important contributor to economic success.  Taken together, a review of both quantitative labor market analysis and qualitative program participant feedback helps position LeadersUp as a leading “think-and-do-tank” dedicated to increasing access to economic opportunity for many of our disconnected youth in America.

LeadersUp’s program participants – 18 to 24-year-old young adults, a majority who identify as African American or Hispanic who are not working or in school – view upward mobility or economic success more broadly then earning more than the previous generation.  Many of our program participants define economic success as “doing what they love.”  Program participants also responded that they value preparing for and successfully launching a career over finding and landing a good job.

Lastly, we found that many of our program participants view the economy as unfair and provides certain individuals with opportunities while disregarding others.  In many respects, research supports our participants’ views on disparities across labor markets. To combat negative labor market perceptions that may prevent or delay labor market participation and reconnecting to the workforce,

LeadersUp is increasing its investment in improving postsecondary and workforce development systems to help make labor markets more equitable and accessible to more residents, particularly those not connected to employment or education opportunities.

Strategies to Support Economic Mobility for the Next Generation

Based on our participant feedback and labor market analysis, LeadersUp concludes that to improve economic mobility among young adults within the cities we serve – Los Angeles, Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area, we must prioritize:

  • Non-Traditional Career Pathways: Brokering non-traditional career pathway opportunities for the large number of young adults not succeeding in traditional education pathways
  • Success Measures: Consider expanding the definition of economic mobility to include qualitative measures of client satisfaction and career interest alignment, which may serve as proxy data for employer motivation and ultimately increase the likelihood of great greater economic mobility
  • Systems Change: Strengthen collaborations with community based organizations (e.g. education and training providers, and government) that focus on human capital development and developing high demand skills and expand demand-side partnerships (e.g., employers, government) that improves labor market conditions and increasing for more residents

When asking our participants what they believe drives future economic success, most participants responded that job training and continuing their education beyond high school are the most critical components of upward mobility in America.  However, new research published by economist Jesse Rothstein of the University of California suggests that human development strategies by themselves only modestly influences one’s chances to do better than the previous generation. Rothstein’s research suggests that the career advice parents should provide their kids is to think innovatively about their skills, diversify their talent and knowledge of industries to help weather the ever changing job market and connect to community organizations that are focused on ensuring their professional development is at pace with the future of work.

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