Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to create a job

For all of the recent heated debate over stimulus spending, deficit reduction, taxes, etc., politicians of every stripe have hewed to the same underlying message: my approach will create the most jobs.  The next presidential election will almost certainly be decided by the public's perception of which candidate can do the most to turn the economy around.  But short of Keynesian-style mass hiring directly by the government -- a policy neither party has to date been willing to propose -- how do we get people back to work?

City Limits Magazine recently posed the question, "Can Job Training Reduce Unemployment?"  New York City spends more than $1 billion on a variety of job training programs and officials claim that they city puts 85,000 welfare recipients to work each year through the mandatory job search component of public assistance, and another 35,000 residents through the city-funded Workforce1 Career Center system.  But what does this really mean when the city is not creating enough jobs to keep up with population growth, let alone put the already jobless back to work?  In a time of mass unemployment, the article wonders, "are the training programs merely getting people jobs at the expense of other applicants, who end up taking their place on the unemployment line?"

If the quick placement model is merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, how could job training programs really create new opportunities?  From an economic perspective, a recession is the time to prepare the unemployed to for the high skilled jobs that are likely to emerge in the future.  Few programs, however, provide the type of intensive skills training that will benefit workers down the road.

Back in May, the radio program This American Life set out to discover whether politicians' rhetoric matched reality.  In an episode entitled How To Create A Job, the show asked some basic questions:

It seems like every politician has a plan for putting people back to work. But we and the Planet Money team couldn’t help but wonder…how do you create a job? Can politicians truly create many jobs? Is it possible the whole thing is just well-intentioned hot air?

The episode contains five sections, all of which are worth listening to.  For youth workers, the final story on the Pathstone workforce program in Rochester should not be missed.

  • Prologue.  Host Ira Glass talks to Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri on a press conference he held to announce the creation of just one job. (4 minutes)
  • Act One. Can the Government Move My Cheese?  Chana Joffe-Walt visits a governor who first became famous for promising his state he'd create jobs: Scott Walker of Wisconsin. (Yes, he's famous for some other things since.) Walker promised 250,000 new jobs and 10,000 new business in his state by the end of his first term. Chana tries to figure out how he's doing. And whether he can really take credit for the new jobs that've been created in Wisconsin. (19 minutes)
  • Act Two. This Story Might Be Recorded for Training and Quality Assurance.  In this terrible economy, we wanted to hear the sound of someone actually getting a job, and producer Lisa Pollak recorded it in the Holland Michigan office of Novo 1. On Tuesday of this week, Deborah Ozga was interviewing applicants for 15 new call center jobs. (7 minutes)
  • Act Three. Job Fairies.  For a look at the nuts and bolts of government job creation, This American Life Senior Producer Julie Snyder and Planet Money correspondent Adam Davidson attend a meeting of the International Economic Developers Council in San Diego. (15 minutes)
  • Act Four. Be Cool, Stay in School.  Unemployment is 9 percent, but it's worst among high school dropouts and people with only a high school education. Adam went to a place that's trying to help them find jobs: an organization called Pathstone, in Rochester, NY. (8 minutes)
The episode can be streamed for free from the show's website, or downloaded from iTunes or Amazon for $0.99.

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