Friday, May 22, 2009

Unemployment as retooling

David Wessel is the chief economic editor for the Wall Street Journa. In David's Thursday column he argues persuasively for unemployed workers to enroll in community college job training programs in lieu of looking for jobs that don't exist.

The biggest problem we are facing is that a record 46% of the unemployed have been on benefits for at least a half year. According to Wessel this is bad for the economy as their skills atrophy and employers balk at hiring people who have been unemployed for a long time.

He quotes Harvard economic Lawrence Katz, "But when people are out ff work for a long time, they become discouraged and stop thinking of themselves as the in the labor force. Keeping them connected to they think they're still workers is important."

Wessel points out the Barak Obama is pushing states to enact programs that encourage workers to enroll in professional and technical programs at community colleges.

Business Week reported earlier in the month that there are actually three million jobs that employers are actively recruiting for and are unable to fill. According to Peter Coy, "it's evidence of an emerging structural shift in the U.S. economy that has created serious mismatches between worker and employers. People in the shrinking sectors such as construction, finance, and retail lack the skills and training for openings in growing fields, including accounting and health care...As bad as it is now, the mismatch will create bigger problems when the economy begins to expand again. "

Washington State is way ahead of the curve here. The state's worker retraining program is the largest in the country now serving at least 14,000 students and providing programs designed to retool skills. The state also provide up to two years of unemployment benefits when workers are in retraining.

Sen. Jim Hargrove passed legislation this session that doubled the size of the program and linked it more carefully to the the federal Workforce Investment Councils. Since demand for the program has already stripped seats at colleges, Hargrove vows to do more next year.

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