Washington, D.C. — Workers of color, immigrants, and workers with a high school degree or less have suffered the greatest job losses during this pandemic and are overrepresented in jobs that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn. Yet policymakers still have not developed a national workforce and re-employment strategy that focuses on the workers and small businesses that have been most impacted by the economic crisis. To address that need, National Skills Coalition today released a report outlining set of policy goals, principles, and a call to action for state and federal policymakers to leverage skills policy to help build an inclusive economic recovery.
“The success of our economic recovery can’t just be about the national unemployment rate going down, GDP going up, or the stock market rebounding – the real test is about how successful we are in building a recovery that is inclusive and equitable,” said Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of National Skills Coalition. “This would mean that workers and businesses who were most impacted by this recession, as well as workers who were previously held back by structural barriers of discrimination or lack of opportunity, are empowered to equitably participate in and benefit from the economy’s expansion and restructuring.”
Guided by this vision and a set of six principles, National Skills Coalition developed eight policy goals that federal and state policymakers should commit to in order to support the millions of workers and small businesses who have shouldered the greatest impacts from the downturn and have been traditionally left out of past recovery efforts.
Achieving these goals requires making generation-defining public investments in our workforce system. Congress has passed more than $3 trillion in Covid relief since the pandemic began but only $345 million has been dedicated to workforce funding, which amounts to less than six dollars in skill-building and re-employment services for each person who has been laid off since late March. State and federal officials should not wait until the worst of the crisis is over before investing in the inclusive, post-pandemic economy that our country needs.
America, unfortunately, has a poor track record when it comes to equitable economic recovery policy. Racial discrimination marked the New Deal programs of the 1930s. The GI Bill of the 1940s denied Black workers and their families the opportunity to accumulate wealth (through home mortgage subsidies) or human capital (through postsecondary education and training).
The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act spent more on college-bound students and long-term unemployed workers with college degrees than it did on retraining workers without a bachelor’s degree for a new career coming out of that recession. The Recovery Act also picked winners and losers when it chose which industries (e.g. “green jobs” in energy industry) to target for job training investments instead of creating real pathways to prosperity for everyone.
“Our ongoing national response to this crisis must do better,” said Van Kleunen. “We have a chance to get it right, to empower workers and businesses that were failed by our past so they can shape and benefit from the growth of America’s economic future. A pragmatic, inclusive vision for skills policy is essential to that future. America can’t train its way out of this crisis, nor can workforce policy alone dismantle structural racism, bring economic security to every worker, or ignite sustainable growth for every small business. But workforce policy must be part of the path forward.”