Our Disappearing Labor Force

The year 2014 is turning out to be a reincarnation of 1978, when we had an out-of-touch Democratic president who failed to spur the economy and help create jobs.

In fact, the labor force participation this year equals that of 1978, when only 62.8 percent of American civilians 16 or older had a job or actively looked for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It is estimated that more than 11 million people have dropped out of the labor force under President Obama, either because they can’t find a job or lack the skills for employment. Essentially, people have just given up.

Ironically, these people don’t figure into the unemployment rate. So despite the fact that October 2013 marked the 59th straight month of a 7-percent-plus unemployment rate in the United States, the Obama administration continues to release rosy projections that unemployment is actually decreasing.

This doesn’t pass the smell test when you factor in 11 million people who don’t even show up on the radar screen as being unemployed. They are essentially invisible workers.

How disheartening it must be to be deemed so inconsequential that the government doesn’t even recognize your existence. Surely these 11 million people would want to be productive workers again if given the opportunity.

Extending government unemployment benefits merely creates a permanent class of non-working adults without any incentive to look for work. Putting these people back to work must come from the private sector. Yet, high taxes, over-regulation and diminished access to capital have potential employers, like workers, sitting on the sidelines.

I’ve written before about the need to train workers for today’s jobs, and I was reminded in a column by Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a former member of the Republican National Committee’s Executive Committee, of the bipartisan Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act, which has received scant media attention.

The SKILLS Act was a direct response from Republicans after Obama challenged Congress to streamline worker legislation.

It calls for strengthening the role of employers in workforce development decisions by requiring two-thirds of the workforce board (local workforce development professionals, Workforce Investment Board members and policymakers) to represent community employers, instead of union leaders brought in to compromise the program. Its goal is to focus on training for in-demand occupations.

It also requires state and local leaders to use a set of common performance measures for services offered to workers, improving accountability and protecting taxpayer dollars.

Since the House passed it, with votes by Democrats, this Act should be a priority and move to a Senate vote.

Instead it is stuck in the Senate, bogged down by Democrats who still prefer unending entitlements for the unemployed who have defined this administration. Can you feel the breath of union officials on their necks?

It’s hard to ignore the failed 1978 Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), which was patterned after Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration program.

Unlike today’s Republican jobs-training initiative, which calls for training in in-demand careers, the CETA program created some 725,000 public service jobs, largely menial jobs that did not prepare workers for a career.

Thanks to union pressure, CETA was forced to pay comparable wages to new workers at the same level as existing government workers, which would bankrupt the program. Worse, the jobs created were limited to tasks that were not already being done, which gave rise to thousands of jobs that kept workers busy, but not trained.

Does this sound familiar? Government handouts don’t train workers or create jobs. All the Obama stimulus money is long spent, and 11 million people stopped looking for work.

Cardenas also discussed another Republican jobs initiative that entails providing loans to workers to relocate to another state to find a job. States with lower taxes and less regulation provide ample opportunities for employment and job creation. This is one reason why right-to-work states are attracting more workers. And why Democrats under the throes of union domination aren’t going to support any initiative that encourages moving to right-to-work states, even if it puts more Americans back to work.

I don’t think there is a groundswell of people who want to return to the days of Jimmy Carter. They don’t need to because we’re living it today.

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