New Report from Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board

Posted by on July 6, 2009

Half of Philadelphians lack work literacy skills: report

The Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board has released a new report entitled Help Wanted that documents the need for Philadelphia to take steps to bolster adult literacy – or face a workforce increasingly lacking the skills to compete in today’s global economy.

Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the report includes original research demonstrating the critical need to educate and improve adult literacy, while investing in our own talent to vastly improve the economic position of Philadelphia.

The report notes that Greater Philadelphia is able to lure good, high-paying employers to the area, but faces a growing gap between the essential needs of businesses and the skills of the workforce. The problem is especially acute in Philadelphia, where 52.2 percent of the population falls below the literacy standard required by businesses – meaning more than half of all adults struggle to follow written instructions or complete a form, such as a job application. That compares with 37.9 percent throughout Pennsylvania.

“This research shows the City of Philadelphia is at a crossroads,” PWIB CEO Sallie A. Glickman said.  “In a world where business can go virtually anywhere to find the right people, to compete Philadelphia must commit to becoming a city with a world-class, highly literacy workforce.  This report highlights our city’s major human capital issue and provides the full community with an opportunity to engage in proven solutions.”-

The report presents some stark statistics:
— More than 202,000 adults in Philadelphia have not obtained a high school diploma.
— 52.2 percent of working-age Philadelphians – approximately 550,000 people – are below the literacy standard.
— Those 555,000 adults can only compete for a third of the jobs available in today’s economy – roughly 211,000 jobs.
— Research suggests that a strategic investment of $12 million annually over the next seven years in work-specific intensive literacy courses would net more than $370 million in taxes and savings.

The report notes that the problem will only get worse without intervention. By 2015, there will be 120,000 additional vacancies in the city at higher level managerial and professional jobs, while by 2030, there will be 600,000 Philadelphians lacking the skills needed to compete in the economic mainstream.

“Tackling this problem is critical to all facets of our community,” said PWIB Chairman Roosevelt Hairston, vice president for community and government relations at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We must insure Philadelphians have the requisite skills they need so our companies have the workforce necessary to grow and thrive in our city and region.”

Hairston highlighted the projected rate of return of 450 percent over the next seven years, based on an investment of $84 million – $12 million annually – to improve adult literacy. The average wage for Philadelphians with a high school diploma or GED is close to $6,500 higher annually than for those without. That translates into more tax money. And the current annual cost per high school dropout for services such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and unemployment amounts to $6,779 – meaning reduced social spending. Plus, businesses would benefit from 21,818 more individuals positioned to thrive in our dynamic knowledge economy.

The results of increased literacy pay off in ways that go far beyond the costs and savings, observed Glickman.  “For the city, it means a higher-caliber workforce to support economic growth, healthier children and greater overall wealth. For our businesses, it means a more productive labor force, increased employee retention and reduced recruitment and training costs. For individuals, it opens doors to better jobs, higher wages, job security and additional education, including college.”

The full report is available here.

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