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04.17.19

New Federal Reserve report focuses on employment opportunities for workers without a college degree

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Toledo, OH, Cleveland, OH, and Lexington, KY rank among the top 10 metro areas in shares of opportunity employment

A new Federal Reserve report identifies jobs that do not require a four-year college degree and give workers the opportunity to earn above the national annual median wage of $37,690 (adjusted for differences in regional price levels). These jobs — also defined as opportunity employment — are the focus of a study released jointly today by the Federal Reserve Banks of Cleveland and Philadelphia, "Opportunity Occupations Revisited: Exploring Employment for Sub-Baccalaureate Workers Across Metro Areas and Over Time."

Opportunity employment accounts for 21.6 percent of total employment in 121 of the nation's largest metropolitan areas. The largest opportunity occupations represent a range of industries from health care (registered nurses and licensed practical/vocational nurses) to the skilled trades (carpenters and electricians) to office work (accounting clerks and administrative supervisors).

Among the metro areas analyzed, the share of opportunity employment ranges from a high of 34.0 percent in Toledo, OH to a low of 14.6 percent in Washington, DC. Cleveland, OH and Lexington, KY also rank among the top 10 metro areas in shares of opportunity employment. (Find fact sheets for all 121 metro areas here.)

The study finds that a region's level of opportunity employment is influenced by the types of jobs available, the level of education that employers seek when filling job openings, and the cost of living.

Some of the largest opportunity occupations, including a number in health care and the skilled trades, could experience above-average growth through 2026 and are not considered to be at significant risk of automation, while the reverse is true for some occupations in office and administrative support. While the authors acknowledge the importance of considering both job quality and automation in assessments of the labor market, the primary objective of this report is to gain a better understanding of the regional factors that influence current employment opportunities for workers without a four-year college degree.

To expand local opportunities for the 68 percent of U.S. adults who do not have a four-year college degree, economic development efforts could focus on industries characterized by high levels of opportunity employment, both private sector and public sector programs for post-secondary skills development could be expanded, and employers could reevaluate the level of education that a job requires and the ways they assess the skills of job candidates from different educational backgrounds.

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