Never before has there been a stronger link between our national economy and the condition of its communities.
As we progress toward a technology-based economy, the demand for workers with advanced skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math – STEM skills -- has grown. Eventually, nearly every industry will depend on a workforce with skills in these areas. Young people growing up in our nation’s distressed communities will be least prepared.
Barriers to Advancement
The Pew Charitable Trusts report that 43% of Americans raised at the bottom of the income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent never even make it to the middle.
Creating an upward movement in personal income in the next generation requires the very resources -- steady employment, dual family incomes, and the ability to finance a mortgage – the resources that residents of poor communities are least likely to possess. More Americans are facing these barriers as concentrated poverty spreads to smaller metropolitan areas
Improving the chances of the next generation to earn higher incomes than their parents becomes even less probable when these children grow up in communities typified by low school achievement rates and a scarcity of socially-valuable career role-models. Minorities and women are at greatest risk.
Where You Grow-up Makes All the Difference
A recent Harvard University study conducted by Raj Chetty found that children growing up in the US today are just as likely — no more, no less — to climb the economic ladder as children born more than a half-century ago. Children with the greatest chance of moving out of poverty live in communities with (1) less residential segregation, (2) less income inequality, (3) better primary schools, (4) greater social capital, and (5) greater family stability. Each of these factors are rooted in poverty; the cycle of poverty will remain unbroken if residents do not have the income to improve their lives or the lives of their children.
There is a major economic opportunity for the US in these trends if this future workforce is prepared to take this new economy head-on. While many other “aging” countries are seeing their workforces shrink, the US will in fact see an increase in workers.
Shifting Workforce Demographics
The existence of these barriers become a national economic problem when trend data on the growth of the US population are added to the equation.
If today’s poverty demographics remain constant, we can expect that the children most likely to be raised in these distressed communities today – the children of racial and ethnic minorities -- will comprise the majority of the US workforce by 2044. We don't have to wait until 2044 for this to happen, however, as these demographic shifts are already in place in our most heavily populated areas. The groups that were traditionally in the minority are now in the majority in 19 of the 25 US counties with the largest residential populations. This means that the junior high school age children living in these counties will enter the US workforce by 2025.
Using Mentoring to Repair the Leaky STEM Workforce Pipeline
STEM education experts agree that “students who have mentors “thrive” in nearly all STEM settings”. Findings from a recent study on the effectiveness of mentoring suggest that it particularly benefited youth’s emotional/psychological well-being, peer relationships, academic attitudes, and grades. Moreover, having an early start in the mentoring process may be the key to plugging what is referred to as the Leaky STEM pipleline. STEM training programs report that less than 175,000 of the 1 million students who enter high school with an interest pursuing a STEM career are successful. The retention rates for women and minorities are lowest. That is why the Patrick Spann Foundation is targeting junior high school and high school students.