Pathways Back to Work Act Introduced
By Neil Ridley
Four years after the official end of the Great Recession, the economy is improving, but the nation is struggling with slow job growth and high unemployment. The national unemployment rate is expected to remain above 7.5 percent through 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s Budget and Economic Outlook. Long-term unemployment, in particular, remains at record levels: nearly two out of five of the unemployed, or about 4 million workers, have been out of work for more than six months and large numbers have been jobless for more than a year. Numerous studies confirm that it is very difficult for long-term unemployed workers to re-enter the workforce.
Last week, Rep. George Miller (D-CA), together with other House members, introduced the Pathways Back to Work Act, which is modeled on provisions in the President’s FY 2014 budget request. The bill would create work and educational opportunities for long-term unemployed workers and low-income adults and youth, who are at risk of being left behind as the economy recovers from the Great Recession.
Of the total $12.5 billion under the Pathways Back to Work Act, $8 billion would be available for subsidized employment and supportive services for adults. Governors would have the option of administering the program through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) agencies or local workforce boards under the Workforce Investment Act or a combination of the two.
The subsidized job strategies supported by the Pathways Back to Work Act are a promising way to give unemployed and disadvantaged workers the opportunity to earn wages, build skills, and connect to the labor market, while also giving businesses an incentive to hire new employees when they might not have been able to do so otherwise. For example, the successful, two-year program funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided job opportunities for about 260,000 people in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers who examined the implementation of ARRA workforce programs found that paid work opportunities can be used even for experienced unemployed workers who need to rebuild their confidence and prepare for reemployment.
The bill includes $2.5 billion for summer and year-round employment opportunities for the nearly 7 million youth ages 16-24, who are neither employed nor in school. A similar round of funding under ARRA led to paid work experience and training for nearly 360,000 young people during 2009. The bill would encourage local workforce boards to create employment opportunities in emerging or in-demand occupations and to provide year-round youth participants with education and training leading to industry-recognized credentials. This is a critical investment at a time when youth face very high unemployment rates and difficulty in entering the workforce.
The bill also establishes a $2 billion competitive grant program for a range of work and learning opportunities that help low-income adults and youth obtain education and training leading to jobs and credentials. Local grantees would apply for and receive funding to carry out:
- On-the-job training and registered apprenticeships;
- Sector-based training programs that meet the needs of groups of employers;
- Strategies that lead to industry-recognized credentials in growing fields;
- Direct work experience along with supportive services; or
- Adult basic education services or integrated education and training models that allow students to acquire basic skills and postsecondary credentials.
Connecticut, Colorado, Nebraska and Rhode Island are among a growing number of states that have launched their own subsidized employment programs aimed at low-income and unemployed individuals. However, these programs are much smaller than those that states were able to operate with enhanced funding under ARRA and only reach a small share of jobseekers. If Congress authorizes the Pathways Back to Work Act, this short-term federal investment would expand the number and range of programs that prepare adults and youth who are struggling to find work in a slow-growth economy.