ARMED with what it says are better policies and bigger budget requests, the Clinton administration is intent on reintegrating jobless Americans into the work force.
The 1995 White House budget, released last week, seeks a 17 percent spending increase for employment and training programs. While the federal funds are slated for a wide spectrum of people displaced from the United States job market, almost one-third is targeted at people who have been laid off because of corporate downsizing and defense cutbacks, or for people displaced by automation and international trade agreements.
Labor Secretary Robert Reich is now lobbying for business and labor group support for the adminstration's new Workforce Security Act. The act proposes departing somewhat from cushioning unemployed workers with benefits. Instead, it suggests investing more in initiatives to provide training, networking, and job placement in the public and private sector.
The administration also focuses on the urban poor. The White House wants to conserve precious resources by slashing or eliminating poorly performing programs - such as short-term training for inner-city youths. It intends to beef up ``what works,'' including an 11 percent increase for the Jobs Corps, which affords young city residents an opportunity to move into a regimented work environment for up to two years. The number of participants would be increased from the current 42,500 to 62,500. There are also plans to step up financing for summer youth employment programs and school-to-work initiatives by almost 20 percent.
Labor Department outlays would be part of the discretionary spending portion of the $1.5 trillion federal budget, which is now being squeezed. To win congressional lawmakers' approval for his 1993 economic plan, Mr. Clinton agreed to freeze discretionary spending increases in order to stop the reckless policy of financing by deficit. Now, every dollar in added programs must be matched by an equal reduction elsewhere in the budget.
The budget is faithful to the spending caps imposed in 1993's deficit reduction legislation and succeeds in reducing the federal deficit for the third year in a row.
But Clinton will likely encounter strong opposition to his efforts to cut existing programs. And he will meet resistance for additional spending on his favored projects, while deficit-conscious policymakers call for austerity. White House officials continue to clash with leading legislators who are pressing for more spending cuts and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
The president's calculations of federal expenditures and economic growth projections won early kudos in an evaluation last week from OMB Watch, a non-profit research and advocacy group, which called the data ``quite realistic.'' For this reason, says OMB Watch director Gary Bass, ``the reaction from Capitol Hill is more sniping about the content [of the budget] than the economic assumptions [underlying it]. That's why it's not dead on arrival.''
Clinton's challenge now is to capitalize on the heightened congressional sensitivity about better work-force preparedness.
Last week, the Senate passed two pieces of legislation designed to redress education and training deficiencies: Goals 2000: Educate America and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, which set world-class education and training goals for schools and industry.
The National Association of Manufacturers hailed this development. ``Our members tell us they are concerned about finding qualified workers in the future,'' says Phyllis Eisen, NAM's senior policy director. ``We've seen many companies institute their own education programs to teach employees such basic topics as math and reading. Clearly, something must be done to ready our youth for life after school and for real jobs in the future.''