One of the oddest flaws in American public policy is our persistent belief that unemployment and poverty can be dealt with in the main by improving the “employ-ability” of potential workers – in other words, by improving the quality of labor supply.
In the 1960s and 1970s, “manpower development” and “work training” were seen as the solution to moving the poor into a labor market that would surely sweep them up. When Reagan dismantled the War on Poverty and CETA, he left in place training programs as an acceptably bootstrapping policy sufficient to deal with the 1981-1983 recession. Clinton leaned especially hard on training and education as his solution to all problems – the early 90s recession, displacement from NAFTA, welfare reform, and rising inequality. While Obama has gone a step beyond mere job training with the public works of the stimulus bill, his more recent comments about “winning the future” show the persistent strength of supply-oriented labor market policy.
What a shame that it doesn’t work.