Boxed in on Jobs

This Kathleen Geier post in the Washington Monthly is good, and her argument is pretty compelling. However, regarding the D.C. big box living wage bill, she writes:

[P]oliticians hate the D.C. living wage bill, because they don’t want to drive Walmart away. The politicians want the photo ops at Walmart openings, where they can boast about bringing “good jobs” — um, well, okay, “jobs,” anyway — into the community.

To be fair, it’s not only about the fear of driving Walmart away. As soon as the bill was passed by the Council, other retailers allegedly began re-evaluating their plans to locate in the District. Isn’t it more accurate to say that politicians are afraid of appearing anti-business in general? In my experience that’s an especially sensitive issue for politicians in D.C., a city that faces tough competition for business from neighboring states Virginia and Maryland. Again, the threats from other retailers may turn out to be bogus—and even if they’re not, the long-term net impact on employment/wages might still by a positive one if this bill were to become law—but this notion that D.C. is “anti-business” is something that District politicians legitimately have to grapple with.

None of which is to deny that it’s a big problem when a Walmart ribbon-cutting ceremony serves as a fig leaf for politicians anywhere who are otherwise doing little to nothing to support good jobs, worker training, etc.

This Is the Way It Should Work Everywhere

Education leaders in Biddeford, Maine have come up with a great idea (reported in the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Courier): let’s take our early childhood education leaders and put them in charge of adult education as well.

If the people accountable for early childhood education were also in charge of our adult education system, I think we’d start to see adult literacy more thoughtfully integrated into school readiness strategies, as well as a stronger push for adult literacy outcomes that are more closely tied to the role that parents and other caregivers play in the literacy development of their children. (And the evidence continues to build that this is one of the key strategies we should be taking to address early literacy development.)

There are, of course, many great family literacy program models that do the kinds of things described here, but what appears to be unique and encouraging about this is that it’s a district-wide strategy.

Economic Argument for Adult Education Still Has Some Life in Maryland

On Wednesday night, during his annual State of the County address, Montgomery Maryland County Executive Leggett announced something that sort of sounded like a big push to expand adult English literacy services in Montgomery County, which he called “English Language on Demand.” It’s not clear what exactly this initiative will include—in particular, whether there will be significant new funding involved. (One thing for sure, there is excellent umbrella organization—Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy—that does a tremendous job supporting local adult English literacy programs in Montgomery County. They would surely do great things with more funding should it become available.)

But I wanted to highlight a statistic that he cited during this announcement, because it’s a rare example where an old report—you know, those reports that usually just gather dust on a shelf somewhere—actually seems to have resurrected itself (at least one small piece of it). And the fact that the piece in question is an economic return-on-investment argument is encouraging.

The report I’m thinking of is Stepping Up to the Future, a 2005 report by a panel put together by the Maryland Schools Superintendent to make recommendations on improving adult education throughout the state. Leggett cited a nugget of economic data that I’ve only seen in that report—I’ve never been able to get a hold of the original source of the data. Specifically, when he said during the speech that “every dollar we invest in adult English language training… brings us three dollars in higher productivity,” that appears to be derived from an analysis, commissioned by the panel, of adult education and wage data by a group called ORC Macro. They found, among other things, that “every dollar invested in adult education [in Maryland] yields a return of $3.15.” That’s not exactly what Leggett said—he was talking specifically about English language training, and not in the whole state but just in the county—but I’ll bet that’s where that statistic  comes from. And if it’s sort of a sloppy appropriation of it (assuming I’m right), it doesn’t matter. The important thing here is the suggestion that policymakers in Maryland accept the notion that investing in adult education has positive economic returns.

Anyway, it’s always great to hear support for adult education in one of these annual speeches, and credit is due to Leggett for proposing it. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Here are Leggett’s comments on his “English on Demand” proposal in full:

My second initiative is English Language on Demand. In Montgomery, our residents speak many different languages – and that’s good. But here, and increasingly around the world, mastering English is the ticket to opportunity and success. When you speak English, you not only learn another language, you also improve your chances of getting a good job – and then getting a better one. It is the ticket to growing your business and to building a better future for your family — which increases the County’s overall tax base.

I recommend as a goal that every adult in this County who wants to learn English – no matter where they come from – has the opportunity to do so. For every dollar we invest in adult English language training, it brings us three dollars in higher productivity. So, let’s invest the necessary resources to help shorten and, in time, eliminate the long waiting lists for individuals seeking the opportunity to learn English. And, we should also encourage County residents to become “teaching volunteers” in our County English language learning network.

The “Least Surprising Policy Position Ever”

This is old news, but I was amused by Michael Neibauer’s lede in this January 30th article for the Washington Business Journal on Walmart’s opposition to a proposed living wage law in D.C.:

In the least surprising policy position ever, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will oppose D.C. Council legislation that would force it, and other big box retailers, to pay their employees a living wage.

Reading this article I was reminded of a statement provided to Neibauer for another Journal article back on August 28th, 2012:

“Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are dedicated to continuing and broadening our support of local organizations and important local initiatives across D.C., particularly in the critical areas of workforce development and economic opportunity, education, health & wellness and sustainability.” (my emphasis)