What To Do About The “Losers”?
Robbinsdale Armstrong High School
Since World War II, the global economy has seen dramatic shifts away from protectionist policies and towards free trade as new technology, advances in communication, and increased wealth has incentivized countries to open their ports and their wallets to the world. While nations reap the benefits of globalization, many blue-collar workers have seen their jobs vanish or outsourced, especially in the United States, as the global supply chain evolves. The plight of these so-called “losers” has raged on for nearly 75 years. The potential solutions are widespread, ranging from protectionist policies such as tariffs to worker retraining programs for those left jobless.
Some politicians, such as President Trump, have adopted a protectionist trade policy to counter the loss of jobs. But a report from the Congressional Research Service asserted that protectionist methods are ineffective at revitalizing domestic industries, and actually drive up costs for the economy due to “implementation and enforcement, higher prices, inefficient resource allocation, and foreign retaliation” (Schwarzenberg, 2019). On the other end of the spectrum, free trade supporters preach worker training programs as salvation for the “losers”. But weak federal support leaves these programs ill-equipped to promptly get workers back in the workforce. In order to help these “losers” start winning again, federal funding towards retraining programs must be increased, and existing programs and policies must be reformed to meet current labor demand.
In today’s ever-changing economic climate, many workers may find themselves jobless with a skillset that is outdated. Retraining programs grant participants an education that teaches them new skills and helps them find a new job upon completion. With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) by the Obama administration in 2014, the White House streamlined the federal governments’ many work programs. The WIOA features components such as matching training programs to meet employers’ needs, building better connections with local and regional industries, and improving outreach to the disabled and underserved youth (Employment & Training Administration, n.d.). The WIOA brings much-needed updating to the federal governments’ complex workforce retraining policy, and offers a brighter future for the “losers”. However, President Trump’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year sees a 9.7 percent cut to the Department of Labor (DOL) which funds the WIOA and other similar programs (White House, 2019, p. 65). The Trump administration wants to eliminate “duplicative, wasteful, and non-essential activities” in regard to redundant training programs, but workforce training supporters take issue with this reasoning (White House, 2019, p. 65). Spiker, in her critique of Trump’s budget, claimed that “[p]rograms should be aligned, not eliminated” (2019). If the government ever wants to see results with their labor efforts like the WIOA, they would be wise to consolidate rather than eliminate. Leaving federal programs with no financial firepower keeps the “losers” down and prevents any change from occurring, as many firms feel the cost of training workers themselves may be too high. Because of this, the government must increase funding to federal retraining programs and subsidize existing programs at institutions such as community colleges. By subsidizing these local centers of education, tuition costs will drop and incentivize displaced workers to earn a two-year degree or certificate, helping them return to the workforce.
Opponents of federal training programs often point to the history of ineffective worker support in America. Graham (2019), in an article from the New York Times, called America’s efforts “byzantine, a dizzying constellation of programs” in regard to getting the “losers” back to work. The White House has made efforts to reduce redundant programs through the WIOA. But reform is still needed in regard to the structure and design of these programs in order to effectively match worker supply with current labor demand. Successful programs such as those at Des Moines Area Community College in Iowa and Great Bay Community College in New Hampshire have gone so far as to revitalize entire towns and communities left behind by job relocation (Selingo, 2018; Graham, 2019). What separates these schools from others is their collaboration with local industries. Successful training programs are tailored to give students skills demanded by their local economy, allowing them to easily find jobs upon completion. A report published by the Brookings Institute corroborates this claim and lays out policy recommendations that may foster effective training systems. Local governments should collaborate with local community colleges to stimulate solid college-to-workforce pipelines and provide funding for these colleges to create effective programs (Soliz, 2016). In order to see sustainable growth in returning the “losers” back to the workforce, government policy should be reformed in order to build stronger workforce training systems.
In the wake of the Great Recession, the U.S. economy has rebounded. Unemployment is at an all-time low, yet labor force participation continues to be significantly lower than what is historically typical (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). Getting the “losers” of free trade back to work remains one of the larger challenges faced by America today. Because protectionism fails to rectify this issue, the government must turn to worker training programs to help displaced workers. Through increased funding and policy reform, these training programs can cause the losers to start winning again.
Bureau of Labor Statistics Data. (2019). Retrieved 20 December 2019, from https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS11300000
Graham, R. (2017). The Retraining Paradox. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/magazine/retraining-jobs-unemployment.html
Overview | About | WIOA | Employment & Training Administration (ETA) - U.S. Department of Labor. (2019). Retrieved 19 December 2019, from https://www.doleta.gov/wioa/about/overview/
Schwarzenberg, A. (2019). U.S. Trade Debates: The Case For and Against Trade Restrictions. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.
Selingo, J. (2018). The False Promises of Worker Retraining. Retrieved 20 December 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/01/the-false-promises-of-worker-retraining/549398/
Soliz, A. (2016). Preparing America’s labor force: Workforce development programs in public community colleges. Brookings Institute. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/research/preparing-americas-labor-force-workforce-development-programs-in-public-community-colleges/
Spiker, K. (2019). Despite focus from the administration, budget falls short on much needed investment in workforce and education programs [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/news/blog/despite-focus-from-the-administration-budget-falls-short-on-much-needed-investment-in-workforce-and-education-programs
White House. (2019). A Budget For A Better America Fiscal Year 2020 (p. 65). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Publishing Office.