Careful helping off-shored unemployed

Beth Shulman

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Tess Vigeland: Monday has been set aside by the federal government to celebrate the labor movement and the achievements of American workers. It's not always easy to be an American worker these days, thanks to off-shoring and the rising tide of imported goods.

So when Congress gets back after the holiday, it's reviewing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. It was designed to help U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of these outside influences.

But commentator Beth Shulman says one new proposal for the program could damage the middle class.


Beth Shulman: This year, some lawmakers have come up with a new idea: pay something called "wage insurance" to people who lose theirjobs and have to take lower-paid ones.

They want to pay thousands of laid off workers the difference between what they used to earn and what they earn in that new, lower-paid job for up to two years at a cap of $10,000.

Sounds good. But it's only for those who take jobs for far less pay and give up the right to federal training funds.

What a raw deal. All wage insurance does is fuel downward mobility by pushing out of the middle class. When Uncle Sam cuts the subsidy after year two, then what? Then, once middle-class workers will end up stuck in low-wage jobs.

We've got to do better than a scheme to rob low-wage Peter to payunemployed, higher-skilled Paul. Why not instead give newly unemployed workers health insurance? Add some funds for real retraining to help them find well-paid jobs at thesame time as they get transitional support?

And why not extend the program to service workers, like those in call centers, who've suffered the same fate as factory workers, but who get no help now?

Let's shore up the middle-class instead. The richest country in the world should be able to provide workers hit by layoffs with the skills they need to move into the new, well-paid jobs.

Let's not punish them and their families further. That's the least we can do for the hardworking men and women who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

Vigeland: Beth Shulman is the author of "The Betrayal of Work."

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