There’s no summer slowdown for conversations about workforce in Baltimore. The trend of great reports and research emerging from our partners in 2018 have continued into the hot summer months. We’re taking a minute to share those publications you may have missed and to look at the larger themes emerging in these challenging, inspiring publications.

On July 10, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council released their Family-Sustaining Jobs report, focusing on the outlook for middle-skilled jobs in the region. These jobs—which require some specialized training, but not a Bachelors’ Degree, and which pay a family-sustaining wage of at least $22.28 per hour—are concentrated in industries like Healthcare, IT/Cybersecurity, Business Services, and Transportation & Logistics. Although small, this slice of the labor market is critical to understand; it represents a ladder to stability for the third of the region’s workforce that has no more than a high school diploma, whose current median wages fall well short of BMC’s family-sustaining wage.

The report focuses on which jobs do provide these wages, and on how we can prepare people for them. National projections show continued strong job growth in the Baltimore region in the next decade, especially when compared with its peer metropolitan areas, and including these middle-skilled occupations.  Just ten occupations—including sales reps, office supervisors, licensed nurses, automotive mechanics, and key building trades like pipefitting and carpentry—account for over 40% of the projected growth in middle skilled jobs in the region, indicating a clear way forward to target training that will support families in the long run.

Just a few weeks before that, The Journey to Jobs—Baltimore City’s collaborative effort to make homelessness rare and brief—released their “Journey to Jobs” report, recognizing sufficient incomes as a key part of lifting individuals and families out of homelessness. The report describes the intersecting barriers faced by the homeless in Baltimore, even when they want to work or already work, such as social stigma, run-ins with law enforcement while meeting basic needs for sleep and food, and the resulting difficulty of obtaining housing as more and more landlords conduct background checks. Still, there are some encouraging findings. Although just under half of Baltimore’s homeless have criminal cases on record, often for nuisance-related charges, only 10% of these resulted in conviction, and half of all charges are expungable.

Our favorite thing about this report is the use and analysis of innovative new sources of information. J2J implemented data sharing agreements to match Baltimore Homeless Management Information System data with Maryland Court records and worked with various stakeholders to develop new metrics for the Continuum of Care’s annual Point-in-Time count and Coordinated Access Systems. In their words, “for the first time, at the point of entry into the system, we can analyze employment-related data and begin to anticipate and eventually streamline access to the workforce system.”

Also in June, the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers published “Collectively We Rise: the Business Case for Economic Inclusion in Baltimore.”  Beginning with a historical overview of why economic and racial integration remains elusive in Baltimore, they move on to explain what “economic inclusion” looks like: increased access to training, education, capital, and professional networks for groups which have struggled to build wealth, and investments in neighborhoods which have been excluded from the region’s growth and transformation.

Using input from business leaders and anchor institutions in Baltimore, they demonstrate that practices aimed at inclusion—often assumed to be costly and supplemental to the “real” work of an organization—offer tangible benefits to a business’s bottom line. These efforts create positive relationships with communities and local institutions, offer the proven financial benefits of diversity, and reduce the cost of turnover or finding qualified workers—and by creating pathways out of poverty, they build the kind of healthy city that attracts investment.

The report is full of concrete suggestions. It invites businesses to become familiar with tools, resources, and potential partners available to them; to establish performance measures; to invest in training for entry level, not just experienced employees; to seek assistance and partnerships so as to benefit from existing workforce development expertise and funding; and to provide training on structural racism and implicit bias for purchasers and hiring managers. For the wider community of stakeholders, they emphasize the urgent need for transportation solutions and call for building on the success of proven programs like 1B4J and EARN.

Back in April, Associated Black Charities released an “Analysis of Patterns of Employment by Race in Baltimore City and the Baltimore Metro Area.”  Prepared by the Jacob France Institute on behalf of ABC, this nitty-gritty look at employment, attachment, and turnover among African Americans finds that racial disparities in wages and turnover exist across nearly all industries in the region, prompting us to zoom out and ask what work needs to be done to create a thriving, regional economy in which African Americans participate fully. Compared with national averages for employment concentration, Baltimore’s African’ Americans are significantly underrepresented in middle and high-skilled industries. On the other hand, strong post-recession growth in service-related occupations in which African American workers are concentrated has meant that employment among African Americans has increased faster than average. Their share of employment in computer, mathematical, business, and finance occupations in the region also exceeds the national average, which “signals the availability of an African American talent pool at the metro area level” for these jobs. For the workforce community, the question is how to build upon these promising trends and make sure all workers are ready to step up and help grow our regional economy.

Finally, back in February, the Job Opportunities Task Force kicked off this flurry of publications with their report, “The Criminalization of Poverty: How to Break the Cycle Through Policy Reform in Maryland. JOTF highlights the myriad ways in which simply living in poverty can increase one’s chances of encountering the criminal justice system, which can in turn lead to further impoverishment. The report discusses bail practices; the poor’s increased exposure to civil asset forfeiture; license suspensions due to lapses in child support or disproportionately high auto insurance; incarceration for failure to pay court or vehicle fees;­ missed court dates and bill payments due to housing instability; and the difficult legal processes for expungement and child support order modification.

Many of these issues are familiar to those in the workforce community, and especially to front-line case managers who hear these stories every day.  Where JOTF adds to the conversation is in showing the way individual legal practices are knit together into an overwhelming maze from which those living at the margins find it difficult—if not impossible—to emerge and stabilize themselves, and in suggesting policy recommendations that would lift some of these barriers while simultaneously reducing the cost of these policies to state and local governments.

These five reports contain an immense amount of research, offer tangible, evidence-based suggestions, and deserve our attention. We love the creative uses of data—both the sharing, analyzing and matching of existing data, and the development of new sources of data—to better answer questions about Baltimore’s unique context.  We also appreciate that, regardless of the lens they took, the reports address the persistent racial inequity in our region, acknowledging that the disparities are persistent, interlocking, and cannot be explained by poverty alone. A systematic approach to eliminating barriers to employment, rather than ignoring the factor of race, should know the facts and understand how disparities in one area (say, existing wage gaps, or bias in the criminal justice system) reinforce disparities in another (housing or homelessness, for instance.)

These reports go a long way towards helping the workforce community build a collective understanding of the problems facing the unemployed and underemployed in Baltimore, and they demonstrate the need for collaborative approaches to addressing the myriad issues that result in disparate outcomes. Such approaches, in turn, support our region’s growing industries by helping to realize the potential of the workforce. We wholeheartedly support the conclusion of Journey to Jobs that “interagency collaboration, resource alignment, and shared competencies are imperative to overcoming the multiple, intersecting barriers to economic stability.”