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Not enough workers, too many jobs. That’s the story for many industries in western Massachusetts and around the country. Why is that and what can be done? How is the shortage of workers affecting our economy? The NEPM newsroom and The Fabulous 413 are looking for answers.

Workforce shortages in WMass. How are lawmakers addressing the issue?

Senate President Karen Spilka speaks to reporters at the start of a fiscal 2025 budget briefing by Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues (left) on May 7, 2024.
Sam Doran
State House News Service
Senate President Karen Spilka speaks to reporters at the start of a fiscal 2025 budget briefing by Ways and Means Chairman Michael Rodrigues (left) on May 7, 2024.

The Massachusetts Senate is working through its budget proposal. So, let's start with workforce related proposals. Chris Lisinski of the State House News Service talks about what Senators are doing to encourage people who are unemployed or underemployed to go looking for that next job.

Chris Lisinski, SHNS: Right! The annual state budget, as you well know, is the largest single bill that the state government does every year. So of course, it also touches workforce. It touches virtually every topic you can imagine.

This time around, Senate Democrats want to pump money into expanding available childcare seats, which has a real workforce impact. We've heard so much, especially in the past four years since COVID-19 hit, about the challenges that a lack of access and affordable childcare creates for working age parents, especially women, who disproportionately bear the consequences of needing to find and provide their own childcare. So, the thinking goes in the Senate, that by putting more public dollars on the table, pursuing a public private partnership to have more slots available for children, their parents who are not working will be able to go out and seek jobs, or their parents, who are only working part time, might then be able to shift over into full time jobs.

Carrie Healy, NEPM: With an increased demand in that sector, is there also a sizable enough investment in expanding the number of seats and the number of workers in the childcare industry?

Yes, a lot of childcare providers have shown a spotlight on struggles that they face already existing in this industry, especially the low rates and low reimbursement that they get. That is another area that lawmakers want to target. They're moving tomake C3 grants permanent, which could help with some of those struggles. And if we're talking about industry more broadly, a very common theme that many business leaders’ chambers of commerce have raised is the need for more child care investment to help their workforces.

So, those are some of the investments that senators have called out in their spending plan. Are there any others related to the workforce?

Yes, another one that seems to be really workforce-related is a push to make community college tuition free for every single possible student. We already have something of a foundation to this, through what's called the Mass Reconnect program that covers sort of the final dollars of tuition and fees for, I believe, students aged 25 and older who have not yet acquired a degree.

The Senate wants to take that even further and basically say anyone can attend community college in Massachusetts free of cost. They need these degrees. They need the training that community colleges in particular can provide to prepare people for open and in-demand jobs right now.

Governor Maura Healey has pushed on a number of those issues and specifically ties it back to the workforce and the economy. But are those investments big enough to meaningfully impact the number of available and qualified workers?

Right, I think that that is the million- or billion-dollar question on Beacon Hill right now; that is just what is the scope of action needed? The House, the Senate and Governor Healey are all pushing for some kind of substantial reform to help employers find more qualified and capable employees, and help workers who are underemployed or unemployed get into open slots. I don't think anyone knows the answer, frankly, to what exact dollar amount or what exact policy is the silver bullet here.

Part of this complicated workforce question is about how many people are in the state. Are there programs to retain individuals aged 25 to 54, sort of in the key years of their working life, from an outmigration trend, meaning leaving Massachusetts for other states?

I do know that that trend itself is really one of the buzziest on Beacon Hill right now. We've heard it time and time again, especially in the past two years, the threat of outmigration -of losing Bay staters to other lower cost locales- was a central theme in the tax relief package that Governor Healey signed last year, and she's made it a central point of her pitch for housing legislation to generate a ton of new housing across the state. You know, I don't think that there's a ton of systemic programmatic changes already in place to try and retain that core subset of people, but it is absolutely a topic that's front of mind right now.

Carrie Healy hosts the local broadcast of "Morning Edition" at NEPM. She also hosts the station’s weekly government and politics segment “Beacon Hill In 5” for broadcast radio and podcast syndication.
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