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April 16, 2014 4:58 PM The Obama-Biden Job Training Initiative

By Ed Kilgore

I was probably one of the few general-purpose gabbers in the country who got excited during the 2014 State of the Union Address when the president announced he’d asked Joe Biden to head up a major effort to overhaul federal job training programs. Conservatives sometimes pay lip service to such programs, but really believe employers themselves—and the harsh realities of market forces—are the only source for effective job training. And many liberals are suspicious of training programs as a poor substitute for more direct interventions to create or retain the jobs for which workers are already equipped.

Whatever you think of their importance, though, it’s hard to deny that existing federal training programs represent a hodgepodge of poorly coordinated and inadequately funded efforts operating in their own little bureaucratic ghetto. So I looked forward to a fresh look at them, and perhaps even a rare bipartisan initiative.

Well, I should have known better. The administration has now announced the fruits of Biden’s labor today, and as one might have expected, they are limiting themselves to what they can do within existing resources without congressional approval:

Striving to show action on jobs, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are trumpeting $600 million in new competitive grants to spur creation of targeted training and apprenticeship programs that could help people land well-paying jobs.
Obama and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker arrived Wednesday afternoon in Pennsylvania, where Biden and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., were waiting to greet them. Obama and Biden were to make the grants announcement at the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center in the western Pennsylvania borough of Oakdale….
The programs that Obama and his Pennsylvania-born vice president are announcing do not need approval from Congress because they will be paid for with money that lawmakers have already authorized for spending….
The larger of the two grant programs will put nearly $500 million toward a job training competition run by the Labor Department that is designed to encourage community colleges, employers and industry to work together to create training programs that are geared toward the jobs employers need to fill. Applications will be available starting Wednesday.
The training is part of an existing competitive grant program for community colleges that prepare dislocated workers and others for jobs….
The Labor Department is also making an additional $100 million available for grants to reward partnerships that expand apprenticeship programs.

Now there’s nothing wrong with either of these initiatives. Community colleges are indeed an important and underfunded source of vocational training, and some of them have found innovative ways to partner with employers, trainers, unions, and other entities crucial to the job market. And I’ve long thought apprenticeships—a big part of the job preparation scheme in other countries, notably Germany—were an under-utilized avenue for skills training.

But this isn’t quite the top-to-bottom overhaul, supported by national-scale funding, I originally hoped for (not that House Republicans would have easily gone along in any event).

I suppose it is safe to say that appropriately scaled jobs initiatives rather than symbolic gestures is an endemic problem for this administration. Again, Obama is not the main problem here, but it would be nice to hear more recognition from the president and the vice president that this country is in a profound economic and moral crisis over the growing disconnect between the economic rewards distributed to capital as opposed to labor. Even if it is difficult for any one administration, especially one dealing with a hostile U.S. House of Representative, to take major steps to deal with this crisis, it needs to be explained every single day as the context for what can be done.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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