City study shows less than half who are working age have jobs

Lack of training programs, mismatch of skills noted

January 27, 2003|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

Less than half of Baltimore's working-age population have jobs, and the city must create more training programs to increase employment, an independent task force has concluded.

The nonprofit Job Opportunities Task Force will release the findings of its yearlong study, "Baltimore's Choice: Workers and Jobs for a Thriving Economy," today at the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business.

"The findings are a wake-up call," said Deborah Povich, executive director of the task force. "We need to increase the number of jobs in the region, and we need to improve the skills of the work force."

The task force is a network of advocacy groups and human service and work force development organizations in the Baltimore region. It was founded in 1996 because of concerns about unemployment, skills, wages and poverty. The Open Society Institute of Baltimore and the Annie E. Casey Foundation funded its latest study.

Citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other agencies, the 76-page report shows a dire economic and employment situation in Baltimore.

The city's work force participation rate - a measure of the number of individuals 16 or older who are working or actively seeking a job - was 57 percent in September, at least 10 percentage points lower than any of the surrounding counties. The unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, compared with 3.9 percent for Maryland. And the percentage of city residents living below the poverty level was 22.9 percent, compared with 8.5 percent statewide.

Taking into account the unemployment and work force participation rates, "In reality, less than half of Baltimore's working-age population is actually working," Povich said.

The study also suggests a mismatch between the skills of city residents and the skills needed by employers. Nearly a third of city residents age 25 or older have not completed high school.

The report concludes that Baltimore's economic health depends on helping residents gain skills needed to fill second-tier jobs such as pharmacy technicians, car mechanics, cable installers and licensed practical nurses.

"We need to make sure employer needs are met by offering more and better training programs," Povich said. "These programs will be particularly important to the city's high school dropouts and ex-prisoners."

Povich noted one program, the state-funded Skills-Based Training for Employment Promotion in Baltimore. After training, participants received jobs with an average increase of $5,800 in annual income, she said.

"We know that there are some answers," Povich said. "But we certainly need more resources to dedicate to it."

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