More Needs to be Done to Help the Working Class

When the Labor Department released its latest snapshot of the unemployment rate last week, most people sat up and took notice. It's hard not to note that the unemployment rate of 3.9% is the lowest it has been since 2000, which is a sign that the job market has become even more competitive.

While that number is no doubt positive " as it marks the continuing improvement of the economy " it falls short for us as a cause to celebrate just yet. There remain too many people on the side lines of employment, and even among those working in the tightest labor market in a generation, many are still seeing small wage hikes.

In the year 2000, after the plunge of joblessness, wages increased by 4% on average. Today, companies across industries and the country are concerned about employee shortages, but on average raised wages by just 2.6% last month, maintaining a long period of relatively flat compensation according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Penn Foster, where our mission is to empower working adult learners and out-of-school youth to improve their career and economic mobility, we will never celebrate until every American is able to pursue the work they love and, in the process, to advance their skills and economic prospects.

We take it as a privilege to work with thousands of students and to forge partnerships with hundreds of employers, colleges, and community-based organizations. Our organization's long-standing commitment to skills training and workforce development innovation is now combined with an even more disciplined focus on in-demand skills and certifications.

As I see it, the even lower unemployment raises the stakes for prospective new workers, current employees and the organizations for which they work. That's why Penn Foster is helping to build a stronger, more diverse talent pipeline by delivering skill-building courses, tailored to the needs of frontline and technical workers, in high-growth fields including healthcare, retail, manufacturing and solar energy directly to students -- and through partnerships with employers, colleges, and community-based organizations.

Indeed, an increasingly dynamic labor market is creating unprecedented complexity for both job-seekers and incumbent workers. And that is why we are connecting thousands of individuals to the skills they need for the jobs they want through an upskilling platform that combines digital content with personalized coaching and communication.

One thing worth noting in the context of the historically low unemployment rate announced today is that Penn Foster's employer partners report significant improvements in retention rates through the implementation of our talent development programs. This is relevant because when unemployment falls as low as it has recently, then incumbent employees will most certainly have more employment options.

Working in concert with our employer partners, we are ready and eager to empower more people to pursue the work they love, and to advance their skills and economic prospects.  We aspire to be an organization of even greater purpose, and to be an even better partner with employers to help close the skills gap in our country. And if the unemployment continues to drop, well that's great news, too.

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