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How the digital era is contributing to income disparity in DC and Virginia

A new report unveiled Friday at Capital One Digital Labs shows that middle-class jobs are increasingly out of reach for workers who are not computer savvy.

Left to right: Burning Glass Technologies' Stephen Lynch, Year Up's Rhonda Harris Thompson, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Capital One's Frank LaPrade and Black Girls Code's Kimberly Bryant. (Photo by Lalita Clozel)

Things have never been better for the digital-savvy workforce. But that has also placed mid-skill jobs — those that pay above living wage, but usually don’t require a B.A. — out of reach for those who aren’t computer-literate.
“Digital skill development is no longer just a good idea,” said Stephen Lynch, the director of workforce and economic development services at Burning Glass Technologies, which came out Friday with a study on the digital divide in Virginia and D.C.
“These have become threshold skills,” he added, speaking at a panel discussion at the Capital One Digital Labs in Tysons Corner.
These middle-skill jobs can be a great anchor into the middle class, but that’s mainly for workers who can do basic computer tasks.
In Virginia, 70 percent of those middle-skill roles that require digital skills pay a living wage — $20.88 per hour or more. But middle-skill roles that do not require digital skills only pay living wage 20 percent of the time.
In D.C., where high-skill roles constitute the plurality (46 percent) of jobs, high-level computer know-how — like computer and network support — are in demand at twice the nationwide level. And in a city where the living wage is $24.95 per hour (!), 87 percent of all middle skill jobs require a digital skill set.
“The digital skills we’re talking about,” said Lynch — like creating spreadsheets and word processing — are “often overlooked, but they’re foundational.”
So, what can be done to insure that a driving force for the economy doesn’t leave a segment of the workforce increasingly marginalized?
It’s essential to incorporate computer science in the curriculum at the earliest level, said Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant.
“Kindergarten might be a little bit of a stretch,” she acknowledged. But, “we have to teach coding [in] first grade.”
“We’re trying to change generations,” she added. “Teach these kids to use technology as a tool rather than just using it from a consumer standpoint.”
Ever the bombastic cheerleader, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe heralded Virginia’s standing as technologically inclined job market and its 4.9 percent unemployment rate.
“Our economy’s humming along,” he said — admitting, however, that the funder base was more conservative here than in Silicon Valley. There, he said, “You bump into someone, they finance your project.”
He acknowledged, too, that to expand the future digital workforce, “You have to get these kids early on excited about these courses.”
And the learning needs to continue beyond K-12. “Don’t talk to me about degrees. I need skill sets,” he said.
McAuliffe has challenged Virginia’s agencies and programs to create 500,000 STEM-related credentials by 2030, he said.
The report was commissioned by Capital One, as part of its $150 million Future Edge initiative launched in March. “It’s really all about building the digital capabilities for people to succeed in the new economy,” said Carolyn Berkowitz, Capital One’s managing vice president of community affairs.

Companies: Capital One

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