Protect Biden’s Proposed $100B Investment in Workforce Development

JFF urges Congress and the White House not to cut the $100 billion investment in workforce development that President Joe Biden included in the American Jobs Plan.

As lawmakers and administration officials work to achieve a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure legislation that will support job creation, it is critical that we also invest in America’s workers. It is essential for an equitable economic recovery.

The unemployment rate is slowly declining, but more than 9.5 million people are still out of work in this country. And those numbers are even higher when discouraged and underemployed workers are counted. Recent labor market reports also continue to show alarming differences in unemployment by race and ethnicity, with Black and Latinx populations facing above-average unemployment rates of 9.2 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively.

The $100 billion that Biden earmarked for workforce development would help people who lost jobs as a result of the pandemic build new in-demand skills and prepare for careers in promising new fields.

That level of investment, combined with a transformation of our workforce development system, is essential to ensuring that the country can continue to rebound from the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we are hearing that the president’s proposed $100 billion in funding may be vulnerable to cuts to accommodate competing priorities in future infrastructure and recovery bills.

Troubling News

This is troubling news. At this time of ongoing economic distress, it’s critical that we invest in America’s workers and the workforce system that serves them. How else can we expect to fully recover?

Even before the pandemic, the United States faced severe shortages of workers with the skills and technical credentials needed for in-demand jobs. We expect this shortage to persist as new ways of working continue to evolve, sparked by technological advances that spur demand for people with higher-level knowledge, skills, and abilities. Many workers displaced by the pandemic were in occupations that paid low wages and didn’t require the skills for work in emerging sectors with opportunities for career advancement. Those individuals are at a distinct disadvantage in the current labor market.

Today’s jobseekers need access to high-quality skill development opportunities to prepare for the new jobs that are being created. They also need strong career navigation assistance to understand what opportunities are available in growing industries. The U.S. workforce development system can meet those needs.

It’s important to note that most of the jobs that will be created through expected infrastructure investments in the coming months will not require four-year degrees; instead, they will require the skills and occupational credentials that workers can acquire in short-term training programs. If we don’t invest in workforce development, these new jobs—which will be created through investments in health care, tech, advanced manufacturing, and the care economy—will be out of reach for the millions of Americans most impacted by the pandemic, including people of color and others facing barriers to employment.

In recent weeks, much has been made about the idea that people are refusing to reenter the workforce because they are receiving federal unemployment assistance provided through COVID relief packages. But if it’s true that people are getting paid more to stay home than they would earn in many available jobs, we should focus on the quality of those jobs and pursue strategies to increase the level of pay, improve working conditions, and help people build the skills for in-demand careers that pay family-supporting wages.

We must learn from this crisis and harness the momentum that has built up behind recovery efforts to make the changes to our education and workforce ecosystems. These investments are necessary if our economy is to rebound, our employers are to remain competitive, and our workers are to survive.

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