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Editorial

Area businesses already battling an intense workforce crisis received an additional dose of sobering news recently when MassINC released a report indicating that the Bay State could lose as much as 10% of its college-educated workforce by the end of the decade, a drop of roughly 129,000 people.

The projected decline stems from a number of factors, said the think tank, including a huge wave of retiring baby boomers, falling numbers of school-aged children in the state, and declining immigration. To sum it all up, there are fewer people going to college — certainly not enough to offset the number of boomers who are retiring — and fewer people coming into the state — from other countries and from other states, with the latter the result of the exploding cost of living in Massachusetts.

This confluence of factors leads to MassINC’s dire projections, which, if they come to be, will make an already narrow pipeline of qualified talent for jobs in a technology-focused region even smaller, threatening the health and vitality of many sectors.

There is not much anyone can do at this point about the birth rates that will lead to this projected talent drain, but there are some steps that can be taken to perhaps lessen the blow, starting with efforts to help more people attain a college degree.

This work starts with easing more people into college, especially through early-college programs in high schools, a step that the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has said is effective in increasing both college enrollment and completion rates, especially for low-income students and students of color.

Getting more people into and then through college is only part of the equation. As the cost of living in Massachusetts continues its upward movement, more college graduates will gravitate elsewhere. More housing, especially affordable housing, is one answer to this problem.

Indeed, a recent report on the state of U.S. housing released late last month by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies reveals that, to afford a typical house in Greater Boston, one will need to earn more than $180,000. The numbers for this region are roughly half — $96,000 for Pittsfield, $83,500 for Greenfield, and $87,412 for Springfield.

With those statistics in mind, the need for high-speed rail becomes even more evident. They show the importance of enabling someone who wants to work in Boston, Cambridge, or Worcester to live in the 413.

The new report from MassINC is certainly sobering. As anyone in business can tell you, a college education is increasingly necessary to succeed in today’s high-tech economy. This state, and this region, needs more people with degrees, not 129,000 fewer of them.

The task at hand is to bring more people into college and then through it, and to then make it possible for more people with degrees to afford to live here. Nothing about this assignment is easy, but the stakes are high, and something needs to be done.

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