March 2021
Broadband, Reskilling Measures Advance in Austin
State legislators are moving forward efforts to expand broadband access across the state, with committees in both the Texas Senate and House considering legislation that would create a statewide broadband office and plan to increase connectivity, address access and affordability, and map gaps in both.

Connectivity and access gaps existed before the pandemic – mostly in economically disadvantaged and rural areas – but came to the forefront of public discussion when schools transitioned from in-person learning to online learning last spring. House and Senate committees have heard and received oral and written testimony concerning the measures, and both bills are heading to their respective chambers for a full vote within the next week. The Partnership’s Public Policy team has worked with lawmakers and stakeholders to build broad support for a statewide plan and broadband office beginning in last year, when the Partnership, Texas 2036 and Texas Rural Funders created the Digital Texas coalition to ensure all Texans have equitable access to reliable and affordable digital connectivity.

The Senate and House bills different in one major way – whether the new statewide office would fall under the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts or under the University of Texas Systems. The final location could affect setup costs and administration of related federal funding, according to Partnership Vice President of Policy and Advocacy Lindsay Munoz and Public Policy Director Ben Melson. Legislation is expected to move out of committee and to the full chambers shortly.

State senators also received testimony in support of establishing the Texas Reskilling and Upskilling through Education (TRUE) initiative, an effort proposed by the Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACC) to help reskill and upskill the Texas workforce, put Texans back to work in high-demand occupations, and accelerate the state's economic recovery. This initiative represents a $50 million investment into public junior colleges for creating, redesigning or expanding workforce training programs that lead to industry certifications or workforce credentials required for high-demand occupations.

Partnership Senior Vice President of Regional Workforce Development Peter Beard, who also leads the UpSkill Houston initiative, testified in support of TRUE, writing that the initiative would help address the reality that almost all of the region’s more than 200,000 displaced workers will need to develop additional and new skills that align with the current and emerging needs of the employers in the Houston regional economy. He testified that TRUE would be a critical element in mobilizing employers, educational institutions, community organizations, and the public workforce system to create greater alignment of the existing programs and support displaced workers as they navigate these new pathways. TRUE would also help employers provide incumbent employees opportunities to develop new skills, as well – especially in areas like AI and data analytics.

Learn more about TRUE in an UpSkill Houston Q&A with San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer. Follow the 87th Legislative Session with the Partnership’s Public Policy team.
2020 Unemployment Revisited: What it Means for Recovery
Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual benchmark revisions, giving a clearer – and more dire – picture of the last year’s historic job loss and the road to recovery.

Job losses in 2020 were more severe than originally reported and show a decline of more than 205,000 over the year (January 2020 to January 2021) – an additional 65,000 jobs over the initial report. Year-over-year declines occurred in all 11 economic sectors, with the greatest losses seen in leisure and hospitality (-47,300), construction (-32,900), and manufacturing (-30,800). The new estimate changes the overall job recovery rate for the Houston MSA from 60 percent to 45 to 50 percent of jobs shed during March and April 2020, according to Parker Harvey, chief economist for the Gulf State Workforce Board and UpSkill Houston executive committee member.

During remarks made last week, Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski projected that employment may not fully recover for another two or three years. The region remains with a gap of about 250,000 jobs, despite some recent job growth in areas including insurance, computer systems and design, and transportation and logistics, he said.
Jankowski also noted:
  • Low-wage employment declined by 6.6 percent (middle wage and high wage declines were 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively).
  • 10.2 percent of Houston families have incomes below the poverty line.
  • 11.2 percent of people between 18 and 64 years old have incomes below the poverty line.

Analysis by the National Women’s Law Center shows that since February 2020 more than 2.3 million women nationally have left the workforce; this puts women’s labor force participation rate at 57 percent (the lowest it’s been since 1988). By comparison, nearly 1.8 million men have left the labor force during this same time period. These startling data have brought childcare and elder care to the forefront of the national labor conversation.

This new view of jobs lost and individuals who lost them accentuates the importance of our work to help Houstonians develop relevant skills that will help them enter or re-enter the workforce and connect with good careers that increase their economic opportunity and mobility.
Federal Reserve Explores Uneven Outcomes in Labor Market
More than one out of every 10 of Houston families have incomes below the poverty line. More than 11 of every 100 people between 18 and 64 years old have incomes below the poverty line. These figures shared last week by Partnership Senior Vice President of Research Patrick Jankowski offer one look at the financial situation of thousands of area residents.

What's more striking, the Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research’s 2020 Houston Area Survey showed that in the year leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic nearly 40 percent of Harris County residents were unable to cover an emergency expense of $400. Paying for groceries was a problem for 35 percent of residents and more than 30 percent of households in the county reported incomes of less than $35,000. Survey results showed that African American and Hispanic households were more likely than white households to report those realities.

These issues suggest that it is critical to look at the ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) population. In Houston. United Way of Greater Houston focuses on the 47 percent of families who are ALICE or living below the poverty level and works to meet their immediate needs and establish a path to a more successful future. (Meet ALICE.)

Understanding and analyzing unequal outcomes can help identify those who are excluded from the mainstream economy and inform policies and practices that open pathways for inclusion.

Recently, the Federal Reserve gathered researchers, policymakers and practitioners to explore labor market disparities across the country and solutions to address them, deepen their understanding of disparities in employment, labor participation, income and wealth, and learn about the implications these disparities have for economic growth, the health of communities and individual wellbeing.

The Fed’s “Uneven Outcomes in the Labor Market” conference featured research and discussion around four areas critical to understanding employment conditions:
  • The state of labor market outcomes;
  • The future of work/alternative work arrangements;
  • Education credentials; and
  • Career pathways.

Watch recordings and see research and presentations from each session on the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s website.
Employers Wanted to Provide Critical Work Opportunities for Young Houstonians
The City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program has begun, and its job board is a one-stop platform for young Houstonians to find hundreds of summer employment and internship opportunities that come with pay and valuable work experience. But Houston employers must provide those opportunities.

Even in a good job market, teenagers and young adults have limited job opportunities, Gulf Coast Workforce Board Chair Mark Guthrie, who is also a member of UpSkill Houston's executive committee, noted during the March 12 kick-off event. Local unemployment rates for these younger individuals remains higher than the unemployment rate for adults of 8 percent, he said.

The city's young people want to work, but they need the opportunity to work, said City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner during the event.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and partners announce the 2021 Hire Houston Youth program
Hire Houston Youth Program Details:
  • Open to 16- to 24-year-olds
  • Youth job board closes April 16
  • Summer employment/internship dates: June 14 - August 5
  • Private and public employers and nonprofits can list opportunities
  • The City will pay $10/hr.; other employers can set their own pay
UpSkill Houston has long championed work-based learning such as internships and meaningful summer employment as providing opportunities for young people to develop essential workplace skills and pathways to full-time employment.

Access the HHY employer portal; read more about the critical need for youth employment opportunities on the Partnership's Houston Report blog.
UpSkill @ Work
Employers Partner with Education to Invest in Future Talent
Dow, MAREK and S&B Engineers and Constructors are UpSkill Houston employer-champions that have taken creative approaches to partner with education systems across greater Houston to strengthen the region's talent pipelines and build career pathways.

Together, employers and educators have created programs and avenues through which students can develop key technical and workforce skills, explore career pathways, and gain career experience and, in some cases, industry certifications, in craft trades and other fields with high-demand projections over the next several years, all while in high school.
Student building a BBQ skid; Photo from S&B Engineers and Constructors
The industrial craft competition builds technical and career skills
Image credit: S&B Engineers and Constructors
Read the story on the Partnership's Houston Report blog.
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Led by and for employers, UpSkill Houston builds the pipeline of skilled workers to grow the regional economy and provide opportunity for all Houstonians.
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