Zero Investment, Zero Gains
Killing the Workforce Investment Act budget suicidal.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
The newly elected majority of the House of Representatives passed their budget bill, HR1, two weeks ago. It has been temporarily shelved while the leadership works until March 18 to avoid the government shutdown that the bill will almost certainly bring with it. HR1 calls for more than $61 billion in cuts to discretionary domestic spending over the next nine months. It amounts to cosmetic surgery performed with a meat clever. Economists of every stripe agree that it will not meaningfully reduce the federal deficit because it leaves untouched the prescribed formulas that dictate spending on Medicare, Social Security and education. Further, it avoids like the plague any real examination (much less cuts) to defense spending and homeland security.
But HR1 does entirely eliminate the $3.6 billion annual Workforce Investment Act budget. WIA dollars pay for job training for people who are out of work. The program is a direct descendant of the Clinton era “Welfare to Work” policy. At its core is the mission to take people who are receiving public assistance and help get them into employment. With a short-term investment, WIA programs (be they job referrals, on the job training, resume coaching, technical assistance, continuing education or work experience placements) help lessen the drain on public coffers and create a new long-term revenue source: a taxpaying wage-earner. Over its lifespan, for every dollar spent on WIA services, $7 have been realized in employee wages. It is a calculus that appeals to the bleeding hearts as well as the fiscally conservative policy makers, and it really appeals to folks like Gloria T.
Gloria was let go from her job in a Salinas insurance agency in 2009 as that company responded to the recession by trying to do more with less. Her story is by no means unique. Every sector of the Monterey County economy felt the same pressures as 2008 was drawing to a close. Jobs were shed in agriculture, hospitality, retail, service industries and even the media. Unemployment in Monterey County went from a fairly steady historical average of 7.1 percent in 2007 to a crushing average of 13 percent in 2010.
FOR EVERY DOLLAR SPENT ON WIA SERVICES, $7 HAVE BEEN REALIZED IN EMPLOYEE WAGES.
Gloria, like thousands of folks in Monterey County in 2009, utilized the WIA-funded One Stop Career Center to help her land a new job. In 2009 and 2010, Monterey County’s One Stops saw a 240 percent increase in the number of job seekers being individually served in the system as compared to 2007.
In the midst of the greatest recession of our lifetime workforce development proved invaluable.
As Gloria tells it, three months after being laid off she was still unemployed, and frustrated. Unemployment rates were high and competition for jobs still out there was fierce: “I finally decided to look for help. I was referred to the Salinas One-Stop and received help with my resume and interview skills. The staff matched my skills with an employer looking for an administrative assistant. I was required to take the WorkKeys business writing test. I passed with a high enough score to secure a job interview. The job I was told, would be a three-month program. I got the job and the One-Stop was able to purchase work clothing for me. I have now been employed for over a year.”
WIA dollars are distributed across every part of the country through 600 local Workforce Investment Boards. Monterey County’s WIB was very busy in 2010: it worked with Hartnell College to graduate the first class from the Green Building Training Program; it collaborated with the EPA, Building Trades Council and the Fort Ord Environmental Justice Network to certify the first local class of HazMat removal technicians. The WIB partnered with Rancho Cielo on Youth Build, a work experience education program building low income housing; paid for an Adult School teacher to bring their curriculum to the One Stop; partnered with Shoreline Workforce Services to secure an additional $480,000 for on-the-job training in Monterey County. All that activity was in addition to serving the 8,000 local residents who passed through the doors at the One Stops, utilized the virtual One Stop or received job training assistance of some variety.
Federal WIA dollars help local residents get back on their feet. With unemployment stuck at historic highs, now is a particularly inappropriate time to eliminate all workforce development funding. If you or someone you know has been helped by WIA-funded programs please take the time to let Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein know you support a common sense approach to WIA funding. I’m no doctor, but I know that the wholesale elimination of worker funding is the wrong medicine.
ERIK CUSHMAN is the publisher of the Weekly and also serves as chair of the Monterey County Workforce Investment Board. To find out more visit www.calworkforce.org or www.montereycountywib.org.