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Needed: A Bipartisan Approach to Jobs : Now Bush discovers urgent need for employment training

August 30, 1992

In the midst of a tough reelection campaign, President Bush has announced a huge increase in federal jobs programs to put Americans back to work. He would boost spending on retraining and other programs from under $1 billion this year to $10 billion over the next five years. The new programs are designed in part to retrain workers who have lost their jobs--like the thousands of auto workers laid off last week when General Motors finally and sadly closed its Van Nuys plant.

There is no question about the need for a new federal jobs program given the nation's 7.7% unemployment rate and the even higher jobless rates for teen-age workers and minorities. But Bush leaves unanswered a critically important question: How will a nation burdened by deep deficits pay for the new programs?

Bush refuses to detail how a nation so very deep in debt can afford a $10-billion expansion in federal jobs programs. Campaign rhetoric aside, the President owes it to the voters to detail where he would ask Americans to make sacrifices, specifically what programs he would cut and by roughly how much, to offset the huge but necessary cost of the new jobs program.

His challenger, Bill Clinton, outlined earlier a new national jobs training effort that would include a youth apprenticeship program. Clinton, however, did not shrink from the bad news--how to pay for the new training. The Democratic nominee for President would underwrite the new training with a new 1.5% payroll tax on companies with more than 50 employees. The promise of an onerous new tax on employers could doom Clinton's approach, but at least he has the guts to spell out who would pay.

President Bush's five-year effort would set aside $2 billion specifically to update the skills of workers whose jobs are threatened by changes in the economy or because of the North America Free Trade Agreement. That training, in areas such as technological skills, is needed to help veteran workers make the transition from lucrative manufacturing jobs that are quickly disappearing to the jobs that are more available in the "restructured" economy.

The President's jobs program would also help poor, young Americans who typically have the most difficult time finding steady work. More than 40,000 disadvantaged youth would go to work in an expanded Civilian Conservation Corps. They would learn good work habits and gain the steady experience they need to get better jobs.

Bush is a latecomer on unemployment assistance. Earlier in his Administration, he refused for months to extend unemployment payments. He has improved his position considerably in recent months, though his timing raises eyebrows. Why did he wait so long to respond to unacceptably high unemployment and the disappearance of hundreds of thousands of jobs during the lingering recession? Any guess?

In California, where the unemployment rate outpaces the national figure, more than 700,000 workers lost their jobs during the prolonged economic downturn. Many of those jobs--like those of the GM auto workers--have disappeared permanently. Where will those workers, retrained or not, find positions that pay the $17.50-an-hour they earned at the GM plant? Where will the defense workers, the bankers and the others who lost jobs due to government budget cuts, mergers or global economic trends find work that allows them to maintain their middle-class standard of living?

Regardless of who prevails on Election Day, Bush or Clinton, the high level of interest in job training by both presidential candidates should encourage a bipartisan approach that circumvents political quagmires and results in a successful new federal jobs program that leads to greater employment for young and old Americans of all backgrounds.

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