Clyde McQueen, President & CEO, Full Employment Council
Access to gainful employment is a social determinant of health. A meaningful career and/or a defined career path creates a feeling of direction, control and optimism. It is a fact that employment that offers workers a living wage provides income and stability — and improved health if the employer offers health insurance as a benefit.
Unemployment and underemployment can have the opposite effect on health, as people face the loss of health insurance and may skip checkups, screenings and medications. At the Full Employment Council (FEC), our staff saw firsthand how unemployment or underemployment can affect physical and mental health. It was not unusual to have to call emergency medical services for persons in distress due to their unemployed or underemployed status.
The job losses during The Great Recession between 2009 and 2012 had a significant impact on millions of Americans, and communities of color were especially hard hit. For example, when the national unemployment rate peaked at 10% at the height of the recession, the unemployment rate in the African-American community was almost double, at around 16%.
Lack of funds or reduced income can cause people to neglect healthy eating, potentially aggravating chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Many clients came to our offices lacking breakfast or adequate nutrition, which impacted their concentration levels during the skill classes they took.
The good news is that almost five years later, companies have been steadily adding jobs. Currently, the national unemployment rate is 5.1%. In the Kansas City, Missouri region, the unemployment rate is 4.1%; in Jackson County, it is 4.60%; followed by Clay County at 3.4%; Platte County at 3.2%; Cass County at 3.6%; and Ray County at 4.3%.
Even though the economy has rebounded, there remains a skills gap — a need to fill positions with specific skills, some of which are in high-tech industries. Agencies such as FEC, as well as area community colleges, are addressing the skills gap by assessing, training, preparing and placing workers in jobs in growing sectors such as advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care/biological services, business services, warehouse logistics, transportation, construction, and financial services. The good news is that some of the jobs do not require workers to earn a four-year degree, but to complete classroom training and receive job placement assistance in a shorter timeframe.
The best news is that access to training and education opportunities that can lead to well-paying jobs has improved, even though much work remains to be done. For FEC, that means continuing to help the thousands of people who come to our offices seeking career development, training, and job placement services. •