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Rare Agreement: Obama, Romney, Ryan All Endorse Retraining for Jobless—But Are They Right?

After GM shut its venerable assembly plant in Paul Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, WI, throngs of laid-off workers got blue-ribbon retraining. The Big Surprise: Data shows they’re doing less well, so far, than those who didn’t go back to school.

A fence surrounds the shuttered GM assembly plant May 4, 2009 in Janesville, Wisconsin. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In February 2008, six days before he would win the Wisconsin presidential primary, Barack Obama traveled to a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wis., for a major economic address. Janesville is a community of 63,000 on a bend in the Rock River near the Illinois line, three-fourths of the way up Interstate 90 from Chicago to Madison. On the sides of downtown buildings, pastel murals by area artists show scenes from the city’s past, hinting at its muscular civic spirit and outsized role in U.S. industry. “History. Vision. Sweat.” is lettered across one mural’s b

Excellent article—well written and good analysis.
I’d like to see the author and Pro Publica tackle the next question:
WHY aren’t the jobs there, for those who retrain and those who don’t?
WHERE are our jobs and HOW MANY have we lost in the last 30 years?  Exactly WHAT jobs are there for working-class and middle-class Americans in our towns and small cities?

Peter Anderson

Oct. 10, 2012, 4:09 p.m.

Nice well done article, but you overstate your conclusion.

Assuming you have the whole situation in Janesville in 2012 tagged correctly, it does appear to validate your conclusion that high quality traditional retraining programs do not work at that time and in that place.

But, your digging into Janesville data today does not reach how retraining might or may not work at other times disaggregated in southern Wisconsin or in other places.

In view of the fact that we are currently experiencing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression 80 years ago, and since, at the same time, we are in the third decade of manufacturing decline, possibly (let us hope) in the nadar prior to the onset of a new economic paradigm with the potential to reemploy large numbers in a comfortable lifestyle, methinks you overreach from what you have seen in one little town in the maelstrom of a long decline.

With those shortcomings, it would be a shame to jettison a tool that may work in other places or at other times.

An outstanding article—even a best of kind!  I suggest as a sequel that you tackle the probable myth that the money spent for any college degree is a good investment, or is segmentation necessary.

I must echo others’ comments on the quality of this article, truly first-rate.

Two of my brothers learned electronics during the Carter Administration through the CETA program.  Neither graduated high school, but both have made their careers in aerospace.  One worked long-term on the space shuttle program without a high school diploma.

Training can work.

Michael Kadin

Oct. 11, 2012, 5:36 a.m.

I have been cynical for some years about retraining. I saw what happened in parts of Oregon some years back. The man, is laid off, and so the government in retrained, this takes maybe two years, then what happens, a little money to live on when the wife can also not find work. He has been retrained however for him to find work he must go outside the areas were were he lives but no money to travel to this new place and the family, well they separate she can receive welfare if the spouse is not living in the same house and what happens now. retrain sounds great but the government does not allow for some things to occur and really help the family and the children what about them a very difficult time by all parts of the family and community. Where has been the congressman, did he put up new legislation to help this community, I doubt this.

Michael Kadin

Oct. 11, 2012, 5:49 a.m.

Interesting article and graphs. Shows a person who is retained may not have the possibility and money not much either and the family and children?
Burns, Oregon, is a real terrible case in point. Lumber is clear cut and no replanting. So the lumber company moves their company to the South where the lumber grows faster. The company gets a government subsidy and the employee what does he and or she get?

There is quite a bit of:

Borremans told me one day. “People are experiencing a double whammy. They lost their jobs, homes, and families.”

going on, too.

Jack Welch’s capital-as-jackboot (or Clinton’s inequitable free trade, or red-star Wal*Mart’s communists-as-margin-makers…whatever you prefer) is burning America down.

clarence swinney

Oct. 11, 2012, 8:18 a.m.

KING OF ABORTION DICTATOR
President Obama would have destroyed Mitt had he used these two

Romney said: “My first act will be to defund Planned Parenthood.”
“My first act will be to repeal Obamacare.”

Planned Parenthood prevents more abortions than any unit in America.
Free contraceptives to poorest of poor women.
Has Mitt never studied the Bible?
The word most used by Jesus is POOR.
PP provides preventative health care to poorest of the poor women.

Mitt does not understand our legal system. You cannot just repeal Laws on whims.
Only Dictators do that.
Clarence Swinney—scared to death of that rich man—-

Well, right off, an unavoidable problem with retraining is that your work history goes out the window.  After twenty years in one field, changing fields abruptly will, at best, get you an entry-level salary, because (frankly) an employee fresh out of school isn’t worth more than that, no matter how many years experience they have in something the company doesn’t do.

Another unavoidable problem is that, when a company leaves town, other companies don’t have the resources or interest to “soak up” the unemployed.  If they did, we wouldn’t have a concept of unemployment, obviously.  (And commuting or moving out of town, as covered somewhat by the article, isn’t much of an option for people down to their last pennies.)

More avoidable, but still significant, is that college doesn’t get you a job.  The degree can prevent your resume from being discarded and might give an advantage during an interview, but the material is generally not vocational and the career services team generally doesn’t have the resources to help every student with their resumes, let alone a full job search.

Retraining is nice in principle, but it needs to be aggressively targetted.  When there’s mass unemployment, people need counselling, not college credit.  They need to find their interests outside their career and mentoring to get where they have the best chance of making money from their skills, whether that’s working for someone else or for themselves.  (Actually, everybody could use that, but that’s beside the point.)  Most probably also need actual therapy, because losing a career in a society where we define ourselves by our careers is a big deal.

Of course, that’s harder than asking the local community college to give a bunch of people a discount…

John hit the nail directly on the head.  In addition to the facts he brought out, in the Wisconsin Technical College system, data has shown for decades that tech college graduates don’t leave the area that they grew up in.  They stay there regardless of the economy or availability of jobs.  Simply because someone goes back to school and earns a degree in a different field, in this case many went into health care, doesn’t mean there are jobs available in town in their new career choice.  This issue goes much deeper than a reporter riding into town on their white horse, interview a few disgruntled people, and think they know all the factors.  Good job John

Funny.  I got the impression John didn’t read the article.

He has a set of opinions about the issue and didn’t allow the author to inform him any further.

Michael Kadin

Oct. 12, 2012, 9:18 a.m.

Just look at Romney’s leadership field. In the GOP-led House of Representatives, Space, Science and Technology Committee Chair Ralph Hall of Texas believes human activity can’t impact the global climate because “I don’t think we can control what God controls.” Science investigations and oversight subcommittee chair Paul Broun of Georgia said in a September 27 speech that he believes “the earth is about 9,000 years old” and “was created in six days as we know them,” and that “evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.”
The farm team is even weirder. In Arkansas, the GOP-led legislature has a pair of members, Jon Hubbard and Loy Mauch, who are openly nostalgic for African-American slavery (you read that right), and a former member running for his old seat, Charles Fuqua, who favors enacting the biblical law of executing “rebellious” children by stoning.

Reagan famously preached that government itself was the problem. Over eight years he cut the top tax rate from 70% to 28% and greatly reduced regulation to free up business. The result: three decades of steadily mounting government debt, spiraling inequality and an increasingly unstable business cycle.

Michael Kadin

Oct. 12, 2012, 9:21 a.m.

In the House of Representatives, Space, Science and Technology Committee Chair Ralph Hall of Texas believes human activity can’t impact the global climate because “I don’t think we can control what God controls.” Science investigations and oversight subcommittee chair Paul Broun of Georgia said in a September 27 speech that he believes “the earth is about 9,000 years old” and “was created in six days as we know them,” and that “evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.”
The farm team is even weirder. In Arkansas, the GOP-led legislature has a pair of members, Jon Hubbard and Loy Mauch, who are openly nostalgic for African-American slavery (you read that right), and a former member running for his old seat, Charles Fuqua, who favors enacting the biblical law of executing “rebellious” children by stoning.

Reagan famously preached that government itself was the problem. Over eight years he cut the top tax rate from 70% to 28% and greatly reduced regulation to free up business. The result: three decades of steadily mounting government debt, spiraling inequality and an increasingly unstable business cycle.

Fantastic piece of journalism. We should be so thankful any such journalism is possible at all. Keep up the great work Propublica.

Elaine, the article posed what’s basically the mystery of how the retrained aren’t employed, suggesting that the reason might be a “skills gap.”  I outlined what I think the reason is:  Limited jobs, high expectations, and the elimination of experience, some of which were touched on in the article in different contexts.

What would a Mike Vaughn (not to pick on him) be earning if he became a “freelance welder,” for lack of a better term, hiring out his services to local mechanics and artists, rather than jumping fields?  I’m not saying that he made the wrong decision, because he might prefer a more stable lfe than that, but the few welders I know make a decent living.  If he was interested in cabinetry or graphic design, how would he be doing in those fields, instead?

My big point is that this sort of question is missing from job retraining.  There’s no evidence of it here, and the graduates are not in good shape.

That aside, I thought it was very informative.  Why would I comment if I didn’t appreciate the work?

This is a very informative, well prepared article with important statistical data.  Despite the fact that the journalist focused on a small town in Wisconsin, if one extrapolates the effects of our tragic economy across the U.S. it is overwhelming how people have been so adversely affected. The timing of this research and publishing in Propublica is so important as we face the 2012 election.  Can we really turn our backs or close our eyes that the 47% comment by Romney is a fatal blow to the middle class, the unemployed who are trying to regain employment and pay just taxes.  The far smaller percentage of very wealthy will survive despite their tax bracket.The shift in focus neds to be on how, what and where jobs can be found.  We may not have to go back to FDR’s forward thinking policies,, but they did make a difference.  If the research sadly proved that well-planned retraining at the community college level, did not get the expected results, we as a nation and political powers need to search further, NOT give up.  Thank you, Amy Goldstein. for your fine work,and readable journalistic style to enlighten all of us.

I’m glad that Propublica and Ms. Goldstein are doing this kind of article, and I think that her skepticism is the best part.

We’re in the middle of a political campaign and everyone involved wants to say there’s a magic incantation that will turn the economy around, but that’s just a pleasant fantasy. No one’s found the formula that can shape the economy. Professional economists spend their lifetimes on interpreting the past and cannot agree. As Ms. Goldstein says, we need the right macro-economic alchemy. But I especially like her allusion to Renaissance pseudo science. There was no way to turn lead into gold, and there will be no program or legislation that will revive the economy.  We have been in the last four years suffering a hangover from eight years of wild speculation in finance, huge government debt created by massive tax cutting, plus two very strange wars fought in large part by costly mercenaries—which are, of course, our security contractors.

Europe is reeling, China is faltering and few of us here have the means to buy enough goods and services to create great economic demand. And without demand, only a fool would go on a hiring binge. The last person to operate on a burst of optimism will be the investment houses (like Bain) which don’t create jobs but balance sheets.

The promises of Romney and Ryan are a scam. They won’t work other than to make many rich people richer. They might not hurt, but there’s a lot of risk. That’s the way the economy is.

Obama’s more or less right. He’s steering a moderate course and hoping the voters will hang in there. He makes it sound like he’s got a whole program that is working, but that’s fiction. He ends up taking much less risk by giving the economy time to heal—which is about all he can do. In addition, he has to fend off the radical assault by rebellious congressmen, who would happily risk the nation’s future.

But about the article. The statistics are poor. It seems clear that many factors are ignored and that there’s no idea of what aggregate outcome to expect from retraining (e.g. what’s the normal variation in outcomes of training for different groups of people in different locales?). It strikes me that if the economy were booming, businesses would do all the retraining that they want and that we need.

Still, let’s assume that retraining is failing, and it’s plausible. The thing of about what businesses want is that it’s hyperspecific, and particular to machinery and systems that the business has chosen to use. A junior college is not likely to have a variety of up-to-date stuff for the students to learn on.

But in the end, the failure of jobs programs to provide jobs for all the graduates is besides the point. It’s providing jobs for the teachers and staff of the schools and training centers. It’s giving the unemployed something to do while both they and the economy heal. Retraining is a part of the social welfare system, the safety net, which protects the nation and all of the people in it. It’s economic stimulus, too, in a time and place with very little opportunity. And without the safety net,  Romney and Ryan and all the big money people supporting them will not be happy with the alternative. Imagine two like them in charge during the 1930s.

Me, I think the basic premise of the “retraining” theory is the American Dream is dead, home ownership is dead, job security is dead, pensions are dead, and the American people are expected accept the fact that they are just migrant workers.

I.e., the right has won - and America, consequently, is kaput as a world power.  Third-world economies don’t lead.

clarence swinney

Oct. 14, 2012, 1:31 p.m.

THE BIG THREE
Republicans 1980-2009 controlled Presidency for 20 years—Senate for 18 years-House for 12 years-6 years of total control
In those 20 years our budget went to 3500 Billion from 600 Billion under Carter.
Of course Clinton added a little of that 2900 increase.
The Big 3 took Carter under 1000B debt to 10,000.
Took Clinton surplus to a 1400B deficit. First time to exceed 1000B.
Took Carter record job creation of 218,000 per month down to 99,000 per month.
“Initiated” our involvement in 10 foreign conflicts. In 12, Carter + Clinton=0
The Big 3 had recession in all or part of 7 years.
The Big 3 destroyed our wonderful Savings and Loan Industry which was instrumental in the housing boom for Middle Class 1945-1980.
The Big Three smashed our Housing Industry. !945-1980, it took 2.5 years of average income to buy an average size home to 5.4 years.
The Big Three allowed Wall Street to Outsource entire Industries and in past decade close 58,000 plants. I can show plenty in my home town.
The Big Three alienated 1500 Million Muslims by invading their destitute unarmed Iraq
of only 15 million adults. What had those 15M done to us?
The Big Three invaded a Muslim nation of 50% illiterates, third poorest nation and no arms.
The Big Three allowed Wall Street Gamblers to turn into Casino Derivative Of America.
The Big Three allowed Inequality of Wealth And making us #4 in OECD nations.
The Big Three penchant for tax cuts for the richest made us #3 As least taxed in OECD just below Chile and Mexico.
The Big Three allowed us to become #2 in OECD in least tax on corporations
Want a BIG FOUR then elect Mitt Romney.
Want to cut the minimum wage?
Want to change Social Security and Medicare?
Want to waste more on our overloaded wasteful killing machine empire?
Want to invade Iran?
A disgusted Independent

clarence swinney

Oct. 15, 2012, 9:11 a.m.

FISCAL YEAR END 9-30-12 and 2013 Budget

Expenditure—3540B—-3800(2013)
Revenue———-2450B—-2900
Deficit————-1100B——900

Borrowed again? When will we stop letting the rich get richer instead of taxing wealth?
Our leadership is too weak to face the facts that Wealth Income and Estates
are not being taxed Fairly. Pay 15% on income in Gambling and 28% as a school teacher or policeman.
Top 400 Incomes paid less than 1% of Income in Payroll Tax.
Rip off must stop.
Obama inherited a 3510B Budget and three budgets later it is 3540B
Big Spender? Ha Ha
If he spends 3800B in his last budget(2013) he will have increased Spending by 8.6%
Bush 92% and Reagan 80% Obama 8.6%  Wow! Why is this not promoted?

clarence swinney

Oct. 16, 2012, 9:16 a.m.

Second Fact Check On Spending
The last budget of Bush spent 3510B
Actual spent in fiscal 2012 was 3540.
The 2013 budget projects spending at 3800B.
That indicates that Obama will increase spending
from 3510 to 3800 or 8.3% for four years.
Compare to Reagan 80% and Bush 90% (1830 to 3510)
One big problem is failure to tax to get revenue to pay our way
thereby creating the horrid debt burden.
In fiscal 2012 we borrowed 1100B. A shame. While corporations made record profits and richest got much richer. We have the income to pay our way.
The revenue in fiscal 2012 was 2450B is why we rank below only Chile and Mexico as Least Taxed in OECD nations. The 2450 is 17% of our National Income.
Runaway unfunded spending is in Medicare and Pentagon.
We must cut the runaway spending and tax wealth more to start paying down the debt.

clarence swinney

Oct. 17, 2012, 10:07 a.m.

WAH
worst administration in history
Bush took 1830B Budget to 5800B or 90% increase
5800B debt to 11,900 or doubled
237,000 jobs per month to 31,000 or lowest since Hoover
Surplus to 1400B deficit—first time over 1000B
Invaded two destitute—unarmed nations –alienated 1500 Million Muslims
Allowed destruction of Housing Industry
Allowed Casino Derivative of America to becomes world’s larges gaming facility
Violated international laws on torture
He and 11 staffers told 935 lies to sell the people on invading Iraq..
Why invade a country that had done nothing to us.
It smells. Black Gold. OIL. Mitt a Deja vu?

clarence swinney

Oct. 17, 2012, 12:14 p.m.

WAH
worst administration in history
Bush took 1830B Budget to 5800B or 90% increase
5800B debt to 11,900 or doubled
237,000 jobs per month to 31,000 or lowest since Hoover
Surplus to 1400B deficit—first time over 1000B
Invaded two destitute—unarmed nations –alienated 1500 Million Muslims
Allowed destruction of Housing Industry
Allowed Casino Derivative of America to becomes world’s larges gaming facility
Violated international laws on torture
He and 11 staffers told 935 lies to sell the people on invading Iraq..
Why invade a country that had done nothing to us.
It smells. Black Gold. OIL.  Mitt a deja vu?

@clarence swinney:  stop, already. 

It is one thing to post data once - even if off topic - as long as the data is valid.  While you’ve not strayed into untruths or anything like that, you’re polluting the thread…turning it into a political advertising platform.

And you’re being repetitious, which is boring<i>.  That last - <b>boring - is sufficiently like “the right” that I beg you to stop…it is counterproductive.

We had an experience in our family. One of our sons lost his job as manager of a computer store when the owner downsized his chain of stores. He was ready to look for another job right away. But his wife, who had a degree and a good job with good benefits, suggested he stay at home, care for the children and finish his college education online. He did that, graduated with honors, but can’t find a job, because people don’t want to hire someone who has been out of a job, only a person who is currently in a job and looking to change. He’s had that answer a number of times. It’s a catch 22 situation, and I’m sure that happens for many who retrain. They are out of the work force, therefore lack references. Meanwhile, his wife wanted to change jobs, and had three offers to choose from.

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