Clinton Launches Effort to Retrain Jobless Instead of Keeping Them On the Dole

TO help retrain jobless Americans to reenter the work force, the Clinton administration plans to weed out failed programs and examine new proposals within the next few weeks.

High on the administration's list of targets is the federal provision for assisting the long-term unemployed, although the plan is likely to meet strong resistance. Simply giving money to this group without helping them to find work is an expenditure Washington finds difficult to afford.

``One of the primary goals of unemployment reform or changing the unemployment system into a reemployment system...is to help people get the next job, not just pay them while they wait for the old job to come back,'' said Labor Department Secretary Robert Reich, who is spearheading the effort.

This week Mr. Reich and President Clinton hosted a ``What's Working'' conference for some 300 business, community, and labor leaders; politicians; job counselors; and training experts.

Referring to the coming release of the White House budget for fiscal year 1995, Mr. Clinton told the conferees, ``We have to make some hard decisions in the next 30 to 45 days about what ought to be in these programs, what we can fund, and what we can't.''

``The unemployment insurance system was designed, and functions primarily, as a system for helping tide people over until they get their old jobs back, but the old jobs aren't coming back, even though we're in a recovery,'' Clinton said.

Rather than spend almost $14 billion a year to pay extended unemployment benefits above and beyond the $22 billion in federal and state unemployment provisions, Reich said, budget planners can target education and job training programs to better prepare American workers.

To free up money, Reich suggested that the government eliminate short-term job training, supplanting it with long-term training that ``does work.'' He also wants to end a tax credit for employers to hire certain workers, saying, ``Evidence shows that employers would have in almost every case employed those people anyway.''

Reich seeks an end to a ``trade adjustment'' program that gives money and training to people whose jobs are lost as a result of trade policies. Fewer than half of the recipients actually develop new skills for new jobs.

The Labor Department wants the private sector to have a greater stake in preparing workers. Business, for instance, can help shape the curriculum at schools and vocational training centers, making positions available to trainees.

Where the private sector cannot hire job seekers, the government may intervene with an employment program.

At a recent Monitor breakfast, Robert Rubin, chairman of the interagency National Economic Council, said that the administration is considering ways to provide work for jobless Americans, particularly black men living in the country's blighted urban areas.

Many of these ideas will be part of a ``work force security'' package of bills that Clinton hopes to send to Congress later this month.

In addition, the administration plans to present details of both failed and successful United States employment programs at an international ``jobs summit'' to be held in Washington next month. Clinton will host employment-related officials from the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrialized countries - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as the US.

To many G-7 partners, Americans are in an enviable position. With the US economic recovery increasing its momentum, Americans' job prospects appear brighter than those of their recession-weary European and Japanese counterparts. But Washington policymakers are keen to learn more about the merits of others' experiences, such as German apprenticeship programs.

US efforts to reduce the high costs of unemployment compensation, for example, may appeal to European participants, who dole out government payments to workers over a protracted period. The system is straining government budgets in Europe, where the average jobless rate is expected to top 12 percent this year.

Chronic unemployment is a global phenomenon, Ali Taqi, the International Labor Organization's chief of staff, told the Monitor. ``The G-7 can focus more sharply'' on ways to overcome problems that also vex developing nations, he said.

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