House Ironically Proposes to Slash Spending on Workforce Development Though Unemployment Persistently High
More than 14 million people are out of work, yet the recently passed House spending proposal slashes funding for a program that provides critical job training, and, in fact, helped a majority of its participants who got training gain valuable skills and jobs during the worst of the economic recession.
The House-passed Continuing Resolution, which would fund the government through the remainder of FY 2011, includes drastic cuts to adult, dislocated worker and youth programs under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). These cuts would sharply reduce or eliminate funding for summer jobs for youth, job and training assistance for unemployed and underemployed workers, and support for one-stop career centers.
This proposal to cut spending on workforce development has largely gone unnoticed. But it is highly counterproductive at a time when unemployment rates are high and low-skill workers are having the toughest time finding employment. Further, the current debate to cut domestic spending overlooks the critical role that employment and training programs played during the worst recession the nation has experienced since World War II.
The investment in job training has paid off. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than two-thirds of adults and three-quarters of dislocated workers who completed training programs during 2008-2009 landed jobs in what was arguably the most difficult job market in decades.
A new CLASP report, Responding to the Great Recession: How the Recovery Act Boosted Training and Innovation in Three States, examines how the WIA Adult program in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York, as well as local areas in those states, responded to the urgency of the Great Recession using resources provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act).This measure nearly doubled federal funding for WIA adult, dislocated and youth programs. In the states and localities profiled, the report finds that the Recovery Act led to:
- Greater focus on and investment in education and training
- Increased use of training and career advancement strategies for low-income adults
- Innovation in training design and delivery and development of career pathways, and
- Strong connections between training and the jobs and industries that were expected to drive growth
The Recovery Act's investments in training were particularly productive at a time of high unemployment. During 2009-2010, jobs were scarce and the trade-off between spending time in training and work was low, making it an ideal time for many unemployed and low-income adults to build skills and earn credentials. Through these programs, millions of unemployed workers, low-income adults and disadvantaged youth found jobs and built skills for the future.
At the same time, the state and local experience with Recovery Act implementation underscored long-standing challenges facing employment and training programs, including:
- Improving services, supports and the capacity to serve low-skill, low-income adults while providing universal access to employment services
- Providing greater flexibility in the delivery of training so that colleges and training providers can customize education and training strategies for low-skilled workers
- Revamping the WIA performance measurement and the standard-setting system, which is currently an obstacle to serving low-skill adults and those with multiple needs
- Aligning workforce, education and other programs to build career pathways that lead to postsecondary credentials and family-sustaining jobs in key sectors
Two years after the Recovery Act became law, the United States has pulled itself out of deep economic recession, but all signs point to a long road to pre-recession employment rates. It's under these circumstances that Congress is deciding funding for the remaining months of FY2011 and also preparing to take up reauthorization of WIA. As policymakers move forward, the report's findings should serve as a guide to creating a stronger, better-prepared workforce.