The 8th Congressional District (CD8), comprising nearly the entire West Valley, is rightfully known for its numerous retirement communities as well as Luke Air Force Base. Yet when looking at the workforce, CD8 has an even broader story to tell – one of a surprisingly younger, more mobile population.
The People. Most recent statistics show nearly 1.6 million people live in the West Valley, and 62% of the population is of workforce age. More specifically, 59% of the residents are under 40 years old, and 28% are 40-59 years old. Perhaps more importantly, the West Valley’s population is expected to grow by one-third in the next 15 years.
The Work. Each day an overwhelming 69% of the West Valley workforce commutes outside of the region. For example, 37% of Maricopa County’s healthcare workers reside in the West Valley, but only 21% of those jobs are located here. Likewise, 28% of the county’s manufacturing workers reside in the valley, but only 16% of those jobs are located here; and, 34% of the county’s professional finance and insurance workers reside here, but only 12% of those jobs are in the West Valley.
Arizona is widely recognized for its business-friendly climate and low operating costs. In the modern economy, however, it seems more families are trying to actually live on a minimum wage, which had once been a starting point. Furthermore, it seems that in this dynamic economy, workers are asked to change jobs more frequently than in the past – which also means robust unemployment insurance, easily portable health care plans, and making sure that those who are self-employed, freelancing, or starting/operating small businesses do not fall between the cracks.
So, how can policymakers address long-term economic growth and stability without jeopardizing Arizona’s competitive advantages? How can our community promote wages and salaries that actually sustain a family? How can struggling workers be empowered to better their positions? What can be done to encourage entrepreneurs and support small businesses?
The answers include focusing on human capital and cultivating an innovative, knowledge-driven economic ecosystem. The following concepts are stepping stones along that path:
- Build upon and retain natural talent by cultivating the region’s various economic clusters; for example, healthcare, aerospace and defense, cyber-security, software and microelectronics
- Expand workforce development and apprenticeship programs; maintain and promote their alignment with secondary and post-secondary education
- Develop training and re-training programs for the jobs that are coming, not only the ones already here
- Expand and protect programs that can help build the economic ecosystem, such as effective incentives, creative funding sources and tech-transfer from higher education
- Fulfill the healthcare promises of the Affordable Care Act
- Develop access to affordable childcare
- Guarantee equal pay for equal work so women earn the same as men for doing the same job
- Ensure an employee’s job is protected in the event that a medical or family emergency requires time away from work
- Simplify the tax code and close loopholes so that tax reform benefits the middle class most
The goal for federal policies should be to help expand opportunity, not penalize success.