House Republicans rode into the majority on campaign promises to “focus on jobs.” “I got to tell you, when I’m home in Muncie, Indiana, people are asking the question, ‘Where are the jobs?’” said Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), parroting the popular Republican refrain.
However, once in office, the GOP has all but ignored the issues of job creation and the economy. Their very first bill was a symbolic repeal of the Affordable Care Act that is destined to languish in the Senate or fall to Obama’s veto pen, while their second bill had to do with restricting the rights of private health insurers to cover abortions.
Not only are Republicans completely ignoring job creation, but they are also actively trying to undermine important efforts to boost employment. For instance, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), who is delivering the Tea Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union tonight, suggested in a list of proposed spending cuts that the government “eliminate federal job training programs.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said on MSNBC today that he also has his eye on job training programs, which were on his list of items that he claims he can “whack from this budget and [have] nobody feel it.” Watch it:
It seems fitting that, while paying lots of lip-service to job creation, Republicans would actively abandon programs meant to help people find jobs. Particularly at a moment when long-term unemployment is sky high (with 44.3 percent of the unemployed having been out of work for six months or more) it is critical that people be aided in learning new skills that might enable them to transition into a new industry.
But there are plenty of valid criticisms regarding current job training programs, which seem to be almost universally terrible. The main avenue for these programs — the Workforce Investment Act — was written in 1998 when, as the New York Times put it, “simply teaching jobless people how to use computers and write résumés put them on a path to paychecks.” Current programs are too short, and don’t give workers real technical skills, leaving them in a thankless cycle of low-paying, low-skill jobs.
But, contrary to the GOP’s wishes, the answer isn’t to abolish these programs and leave unemployed workers to the wolves, but to find successful programs and emulate them. The I-BEST program in Washington state, for instance, is doing good things providing unemployed workers with technical skills for higher-paying jobs. Louis Soares explains how training programs at community colleges can be a successful model here, while Liz Weiss explains how to make training programs more effective for women workers here.