By Nick Albares

An important goal of state policy should be to ensure that hard work pays off. New data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission show that many occupations adding jobs provide relatively low incomes to workers.

Louisiana leaders should enact policies to support workers who will fill these jobs and are struggling to make ends meet. Doubling the state’s Earned income tax credit (EITC) and increasing the state’s minimum wage would be a good down payment for building an inclusive economy that supports these emerging jobs in Louisiana.

Half of the top 10 occupations predicted to add the most jobs between now and 2024 provide an annual average wage that is below the poverty line for a family of four with no other income. Others in the top 10 have average wages just above this threshold, meaning many in these professions will end up below the poverty line. The low end for some of these positions hovers near the minimum wage annual salary.

This bolsters the need for the state to establish a wage floor above the federal minimum that rises automatically with inflation. An increase in the minimum wage works best in tandem with an increase in the EITC, providing two complementary mechanisms for making work pay. Growing evidence indicates that not only does the EITC encourage and reward work, but the income that low-income working families receive from the credit is also linked to improvements in maternal and infant health, better school performance among children, higher college enrollment, and increased work effort and earnings when the children reach adulthood.

While many of the sectors predicted to see net job growth provide low incomes, the data also show that many of the fastest growing occupations, measured by percentage growth, require at least an associate’s degree. Of the 10 fastest-growing occupations, seven call for some type of advanced education.

To meet these workforce needs, Louisiana should reinvest in higher education, working especially to support students from families struggling to make ends meet. This includes providing financial assistance and wrap-around services to both young people from low-income families and non-traditional adult students looking to improve their skills through further education. Since 2008, leaders in Louisiana cut higher education funding 39 percent. In order to achieve sustained and shared prosperity, it’s time for the state to prioritize working families and education.