IN a recent editorial, the Daily Mail argued against increasing the minimum wage. Editors noted that while it's a tough marketplace for workers with little education or experience, the bigger question is how to expand access to jobs with higher earnings.
Arguing whether the minimum wage should be increased is not within my realm of expertise. However, I believe the editors are right to point out that opportunities for low-skilled workers are increasingly limited and that growing our economy revolves around bigger issues.
In my mind, we cannot talk about income equality or economic growth without addressing higher education.
Increasing the number of individuals entering and succeeding in postsecondary programs is crucial to ensuring their personal success and that of our communities. The demands of our workforce dictate that it is no longer acceptable to talk about higher education as an option for some students. Rather, it is an imperative for all.
Certificate and trade, two-year degree, and four-year degree programs are all viable college options. We need more workers earning these credentials to sustain, diversify, and grow our economy.
Projections from Georgetown University indicate that by 2020, 51 percent of all jobs in West Virginia will require at minimum a two-year degree. Currently, only 26 percent of West Virginians have earned an associate's degree or higher.
The Southern Governors' Association estimates that middle skills jobs - or jobs requiring some college but less than a four-year degree - account for 54 percent of the state's labor market. Only 45 percent of our workers have that training.
Closing these gaps will expand opportunities for citizens and generate economic gains for the state. According to 2009 data from the Census Bureau, earning a four-year degree yielded, on average, a nearly 50 percent increase in wages as compared to having a high school diploma.
A report from the Hamilton Project estimated that the benefits of a bachelor's degree are equivalent to an investment returning 15.2 percent annually - more than double the average return on stock market investments since 1950.