The release of President Obama’s fiscal year 2014 proposed budget underscores the simple but salient economic plan that has guided his presidency: grow the economy from the middle class out, not from the top down. The president understands that the middle class is the engine of American economic growth. So the right strategy is to strengthen and expand the middle class by creating jobs, provide U.S. workers with the skills they need to succeed in those jobs and ensure that an honest day’s work is rewarded with a decent wage.
The president’s budget includes an innovative reform effort, the Universal Displaced Worker program, which will modernize and accelerate the delivery of training and employment services to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
Right now, displaced workers have access to two major programs to help them acquire new jobs, but the services and benefits they receive vary depending on how and why their jobs were lost. If your job was lost due to foreign trade, you have access to Trade Adjustment Assistance − a generous suite of training programs, relocation benefits and, for older workers, some wage subsidies. But if you are one of the millions of people who lost a job for other reasons, you have access to the Workforce Investment Act’s Dislocated Worker program, which has limited resources and is available only on a first-come, first-served basis.
There is simply no economic rationale for treating these two groups of workers differently based on how they were displaced. Both groups face the same challenges in finding new employment. Both groups need assessments of their skills and how those skills match up with available jobs. Both groups need case management services and career counseling. Some members of both groups may need to acquire new skills or improve old skills to succeed in new careers. People in both groups need income to support their families while they prepare and search for new jobs.
The Universal Displaced Worker program streamlines and consolidates the programs that serve these two groups of workers, treating them equally and providing needed services. UDW offers all displaced workers high-quality re-employment services – such as personalized case management, job search assistance and relocation allowances – and generous training vouchers to help them acquire the skills they need to find new jobs as quickly as possible. Employers reap the benefits of skills training programs designed to address their short- and long-term personnel needs. And the nationwide American Job Center network will provide a single access point for employers to identify skilled workers that can help grow their companies.
UDW will enable more people to receive more intensive services and training than the current system allows, leading to faster re-employment and better economic outcomes. Helping displaced workers find a new job should be simple, clear and efficient. UDW succeeds in all three of these ways.
Seth Harris is the acting secretary of labor.