Washington Outlook

Mayors' Workforce Directors Discuss Workforce Development Policy in the Next Administration

by Josie Hathway
October 9, 2000

Mayors' workforce development directors from cities across the country met in Washington, D.C. on September 27 for The U.S. Conference of Mayors Employment and Training Council"s (ETC) 12th Annual Congressional Forum. Congressional staff, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) officials and representatives from "think tanks" briefed ETC members on current workforce development policy issues and projections on policy directions in the next Administration. Conference President, Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles has made workforce development a major priority for the Conference and has established a special Presidential Transition Task Force on Workforce Technology Training, which addresses issues directly impacting the work of the ETC. These issues including youth funding, the skills gap and welfare reform were at the top of the agenda of the meeting.

Youth Funding

Funding for youth employment is one of the Mayors' key priorities. Jane Oates, Minority Education Adviser, Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, said the outlook for additional funding for youth is promising only if mayors pressure their Congressional delegations, who are bombarded by education and health lobbyists on dozens of other issues. Leading a youth panel, Lorenzo Harrison, Administrator, Office of Youth Services, DOL, indicated that, with the support of mayors on youth programs, DOL will be able to build a national youth policy, particularly for disconnected youth. Harrison described the Younger Americans Act (S. 3085), introduced in the Senate on September 20 by Senators Jim M. Jeffords (VT), Edward M. Kennedy (MA), Max Cleland (GA) and Patty Murray (WA). The Act calls for $2 billion in funding to create a comprehensive national youth policy. John Gallery, Senior Consultant to Youth Build USA, discussed how to raise awareness about the employment and education needs of 16 — 24 year olds, who are expected to grow in population by more than 20 percent by 2010 to almost 38 million. Over 5 million of these youth are out-of-school or unemployed, disproportionately among Hispanic and Black youth. Edward DeJesus, President, Youth Development and Research Fund, said that beyond Gallery's numbers — there are youth in school that are not really there. DeJesus said that high stakes educational testing is causing kids to leave school and other education options are needed. Linda Harris, Management and Training Consultant, LAH Consulting, called for the 36 current youth opportunity grant (YOA) sites to be the foundation of a new youth movement.

Skills Gap

Paul Harrington, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, called for greater investments in literacy and training for low-skilled workers. Harrington reported on the excess labor supply at the bottom of the labor market in contrast to the shortage of highly-skilled workers, which has made the high-tech industry increasingly dependent on foreign workers with H-1B visas. Ray Uhalde, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Employment and Training Administration, DOL, agreed that because of the rate that we are importing workers, immigration policy will be one of the biggest issues over the next few years. Uhalde reported that DOL successfully pushed for the fees from H-1B visas, which are used for skills training, to go through Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs), which were established by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). Uhalde said, "WIBs must be the focal point, the most important resource where business and job seekers go to solve the problems of the labor market."

While he supports WIBs, Robert D. Atkinson, Ph.D., Director of the Technology and New Economy Project at the Progressive Policy Institute, advocates that in addition, the federal government invest $40 - $60 million annually to support industry-led, regional skills alliances. These would be collaborations among firms in an industry and include educational institutions such as community colleges. Atkinson said that the first round of H-1B applications from WIBs had very little true employer involvement. D. Mark Wilson, Research Fellow, The Heritage Foundation, said that the next Administration's workforce development focus must be to fix K-12 school system and encouraged cities to work with their state legislatures on workforce issues in WIA which Congress intended to be fought at the state level.

Welfare Reform Reauthorization

Ron Haskins, Majority Staff Director, and Nick Gwynn, Minority Professional Staff Member, both of the House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, reported on the reauthorization of welfare reform, which is a major priority for mayors and was mentioned twice in the first Presidential debate on October 3. Both agreed that the most important issue for the 2002 reauthorization of welfare reform is to convince Congress not to cut the funds. Gwynn urged, "Now is the time for mayors to provide the background information to Congress." Haskins said it would be very difficult to convince Congress to change the funding formula to direct Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) dollars to cities, despite being home to the highest concentration of remaining welfare caseloads.

Katherine Allen, Senior Research Analyst, Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the Brookings Institute, presented data to support the next stage of welfare reform from a recently released survey of 89 urban areas entitled, Unfinished Business: Why Cities Matter to Welfare Reform. Allen reported that urban caseloads are shrinking more slowly than national caseloads - 61 percent of urban areas have more than their "fair share" of their state"s caseload. While the 89 urban areas surveyed contain roughly one third of the total population, their share of the welfare caseloads grew from 47.5 percent in 1994 to 58.1 percent in 1999.

For further information see usmayors.org under "Washington Update: Education and Workforce Training

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