US states step up efforts to help jobless
Armed with federal funds, governors have announced new programs ranging from gas vouchers to job training.
The American states, armed with new federal funds, are rolling up their sleeves to try to help their jobless residents.Skip to next paragraph
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Almost every day, governors announce new programs to help the growing ranks of the unemployed find jobs. New York State plans to give the rural unemployed gas cards to make it easier to get to job interviews, while Washington State will hold summer job-training programs for youth for the first time in 10 years. And Wisconsin is hoping to retrain workers, including recently laid-off paper and auto workers, for jobs in growing advanced-manufacturing industries that use robotics or lasers.
In many cases, the new efforts target areas of the economy that are expected to grow. The spending is likely to increase since the new Economic Stimulus Act includes $5.7 billion for workforce programs.
“This would be the largest infusion of dollars in the workforce in many, many years,” says Bob Simoneau, deputy executive director at the National Association of State Workforce Agencies in Washington.
The task of retraining workers and providing new jobs grows more urgent every day. On Friday, the Department of Labor reported that the February jobless rate hit 8.1 percent, up from 7.6 percent in January. This is the highest it’s been since 1983, when it reached 8.3 percent. There was a net loss of 651,000 jobs in February and January. December numbers were revised to show a combined additional loss of 161,000 jobs.
“We knew it would get worse before it gets better, and this is worse,” says Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. “There has been an amazing sharp and steady decline in jobs for the last four months, and there is almost no place to hide.”
Rising joblessness was the main reason Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle announced $5.89 million in new workforce initiatives last Thursday.
The state’s efforts focus on helping employers and training laid-off workers for jobs in industries such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, biotechnology, and alternative energy.
“We want to work with employers who have a need for skilled workers,” says Roberta Gassman, secretary of the Department of Workforce Development.
The programs may help the state’s auto workers, Ms. Gassman says. “These workers would be very well positioned to get increased training to get caught up on some of the new processes in manufacturing to move on to the next job.”
Dropouts hit hard
Some of the highest unemployment rates are seen among high school dropouts (26.9 percent in 2007), and some states have introduced initiatives to address this problem.
In western Virginia, state officials last month unveiled “PlugGED In,” a pilot program that will help 19 high school dropouts earn a GED and train for specialties such as Web designer, help center technician, or graphic designer. Participants are guaranteed an interview with contractor Northrop Grumman.