US Defense Cuts Hit Industry Hard

Article excerpt

AT General Electric Company's (GE) jet-engine plant near Boston, the first of 700 workers who will be laid off this year recently got their pink slips.

As part of his program of post-cold-war "defense conversion," President Clinton wants to help these workers find new jobs - or, better yet, to help their employers keep them on in new civilian lines of work.

Neither option will be easy, particularly in New England and southern California, and cities such as St. Louis and Seattle, where the defense industry plays a central economic role. In some cases, economists say, Mr. Clinton's policies may make the adjustment more difficult.

"All the worker training in the world and all the community assistance in the world will do no good if there are no jobs for those workers and no businesses for those communities," Clinton said Thursday in announcing his $1.7 billion defense-conversion package.

"We're trying to find any jobs; comparable jobs are not the issue," says Fred Breimyer, president of the New England Economic Project, a research group.

The White House package would include technology assistance for companies to adapt product lines from military to civilian uses, money for retraining laid-off workers, and aid to communities affected by defense-industry downsizing and base closings.

The jet-engine plant in Lynn, Mass., highlights the difficulties such efforts will face. GE has long been the most-prominent employer in this town. In recent years, the plant's employment has fallen from 10,000 to 6,300 and now is poised to fall even further. …