In August, the president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York delivered some long awaited good news: After years of stagnation, middle-wage jobs are coming back. Between 2013 and 2015, middle-wage jobs accounted for nearly 43 percent of all job growth. This is a welcome change.
During the Great Recession, the economy lost more than 8 million jobs. The employment-to-population ratio dropped to its lowest level in 25 years. Middle-skill workers were some of the hardest hit, and they have also been the slowest to recover. Despite a long period of economic growth, job growth has been frustratingly concentrated at the high and low ends of the pay spectrum.
Middle-wage job growth signals that the economy is getting stronger. As jobs that pay middle-class wages become more available, federal and state governments should step up investments in the workforce that will fill these jobs. Apprenticeship—a so-called earn and learn training strategy that combines on-the-job training with classroom instruction—has a proven track record of helping workers learn in-demand skills. Yet apprenticeship programs are relatively scarce. A lack of public and private investment in training, limited uptake across industries, cultural norms, and insufficient diversity and inclusion all make it a challenge to scale apprenticeship programs.
This issue brief reviews the status of middle-skill jobs and considers the obstacles—and opportunities—to using apprenticeship to fill them.