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California workers may be undereducated for available jobs, study says

Retraining
Unemployment may be high in some areas because workers just aren't educated enough, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution, which lends some credence to an economic theory that there is a structural problem in the nation creating unemployment.

That problem may be getting worse: The years of schooling required by the average job grew between 2005 and 2009, the study says, outpacing the growth in the supply of educated workers.  

"This report provides evidence that there is an education gap in most metropolitan areas, and that this gap is responsible for higher unemployment," said Jonathan Rothwell, one of the authors of the study, Education, Demand and Unemployment in Metropolitan America.

An education gap is when the demand for educated workers is greater than the supply in any given market. Brookings calculated the gap by taking the years of schooling required to do jobs in an area and dividing it by the years of education attained by the average working person there. 

The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area had one of the highest education gaps in the nation, on average, between 2005 and 2009. Its ratio was 1.026, the fourth-highest after Chattanooga, Tenn.; Lakeland, Fla.; and Youngstown, Ohio. 

The average job in the Riverside area required 13.35 years of education in 2009, the most recent data available, while the average working resident had 12.92 years of education, Rothwell said. In the Los Angeles area, the average job required 13.58 years of education, while residents had, on average, 13.38 years.

Across the nation, this gap has been exacerbated by the recession, Rothwell said, as construction and manufacturing jobs, which required less schooling, disappeared, while the health and education sectors continued to grow. But areas where the education gap was the highest, such as Riverside, had consistently higher unemployment rates than those that didn't.

They also fared worse during the recession. California areas including Stockton, Fresno and Modesto all saw their unemployment rates rise more than 8 percentage points from their pre-recession lows to May 2011. All were among those with the highest average education gaps. Areas such as Madison, Wis., and the Washington, D.C., metro area had the lowest education gaps, on average, and their unemployment rates changed just 1.9 and 2.7 percentage points, respectively, over that time.

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-- Alana Semuels

Photo: An education center in Virginia that specializes in retraining. Credit: Steve Helber / Associated Press

 
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