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Study Sees Lack of Educated Workers to Meet State Needs

In 15 years, the supply of employees with college degrees may fall six percentage points short. The retirement of baby boomers is cited.

June 02, 2005|Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — In the next 15 years, the job market is expected to change so dramatically in California that the demand for educated workers may significantly outstrip the supply, according to a study released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California.

As manufacturing continues to slip away, replaced by work in information technology, biotechnology and healthcare for an aging population, the portion of jobs in California requiring a college degree is expected to rise to 39%. But only 33% of the state's workers are likely to have the necessary education level.

The reason is a demographic conundrum: The best-educated Californians will be among the oldest, as baby boomers head to retirement. But the greatest growth in the state will be among Latinos, who tend to be "concentrated at younger ages and tend to have low levels of educational attainment," said the study. The report, "California 2025," looks at possible developments over the next two decades.

"For our economy to grow, we are going to need to have more college graduates than currently expected," Mark Baldassare, the institute's director of research, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. "The question is: Do you invest in education now or pay the consequences later?"

The institute report also predicts that, even if students continued seeking a college education at the same rate that they do today, California's colleges and universities wouldn't be able to accommodate them all. The report estimates that, by 2013, schools would face a shortfall of 686,000 spots.

The study sees a dramatic increase in traffic congestion from an influx of 8 million to 11 million people into the state by 2025.

But gridlock pales beside the question of education and jobs, says Dowell Myers, a USC professor of policy, planning and development who was not a part of the institute's study.

"We're losing the best-educated generation we've ever produced as they retire," Myers said. "Who are we going to replace them with? ... If we have dreams of being the leader of the developed world, we need to get serious about education."

But there is some cause for optimism, according to Myers and the institute, because much of the growth in the Latino population will be among second- and third-generation residents, who tend to be much better educated than immigrants.

Currently, among recent Latino immigrants ages 25 to 34, only 37.1% are likely to be high school graduates, according to a recent study by USC's Population Dynamics Research Group. For those who have lived in the United States for 20 or more years, that share increases to 61.6%. And a full 83.5% of second-generation Latinos are likely to have a high school diploma.

But Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., looks at Myer's half-full interpretation of California's future and says, "I'm going to tip the glass over."

"Native-born Hispanic kids still don't do nearly as well as the white children born in California," he said. "Thirty percent of white kids in California will finish college; 15% to 16% of California-born Hispanic children will finish college. That has serious implications for whether California employers will have the highly skilled workers they're going to need."

The problem, he said, is the quality of education students receive, not their immigrant status. The best predictor of whether a child will complete college is whether he or she is well-prepared in primary and secondary schools and takes a rigorous curriculum.

"Nationally, we know that Hispanic high school students are not taking the calculus, the rigorous courses," he said. "Sometimes they don't go to schools that offer them. Sometimes they are tracked differently."

Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at USC, says many immigrant families lack understanding about what is needed to prepare for college. His institute did a survey in the last several years asking Latino parents in L.A. County whether they wanted their children to go to college. Ninety-five percent said yes.

But when they were asked eight simple questions about how to help their children get there, plumbing their knowledge of such things as the SAT college admissions test, only 30% could answer three or more correctly.

"There is a lack of college knowledge among significant segments of the foreign-born population," Pachon said, adding that the gap could be filled if there were sufficient political will to do so.

The Public Policy Institute's study, two years in the making, is an effort to get state and local government and the public to start planning for the future at a time when "we are at a critical juncture but not necessarily at a crisis," Baldassare said.

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