Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Job Training May Not Work for Jobless

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Job Training May Not Work for Jobless

Article excerpt

The litany of layoffs goes on and on. Last week alone, we read about 30,000 job cuts coming at IBM, 16,800 at Nynex and 8,300 at Scott Paper.

And, as Bill Clinton said in his State of the Union speech, most of those jobs are gone for good. The Labor Department estimates that 2 million workers a year are permanently displaced. So, what should a beneficent government do to help the victims of the wholesale change going on in our economy?

Clinton was right when he said that our unemployment insurance system, designed to tide industrial workers over until they were recalled from temporary layoffs, isn't adequate anymore.

He's proposing a major overhaul to make it easier for laid-off workers to get training and counseling services along with their unemployment checks. Included is a plan to spend more money on training.

But training may not be the best use of the government's money.

That may sound like heresy. Job-training programs usually are portrayed as a no-lose, motherhood-and-apple-pie proposition. After all, better-educated workers are the human capital we need to compete with the Japanese, the Germans and our other rivals. And if laid-off workers are the people who need new skills most, aren't they the logical place to start building that human capital?

The problem, labor economist Louis Jacobsen says, is that while training is very beneficial to about 10 percent of laid-off workers, it isn't much help at all to the rest.

Think of those 10 percent as the cream of the crop of the unemployed. "The people with the highest initial skills benefit most from training," said Jacobsen, who's a senior economist at the Maryland research firm Westat Inc.

A highly skilled aerospace worker might, with a little training, learn how to apply those skills in another industry. But an unskilled worker laid off in a declining industry, such as shoe manufacturing, has much bleaker prospects.

Federal job-training programs have traditionally been tied to trade agreements. The first one came in the 1960s as a way to gain support for the Kennedy round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. …

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