Jobs are a vehicle for economic opportunity. They should provide the pay and benefits workers in Michigan and around the country need to support themselves and their families. But increasingly that doesn’t seem to be the case.
While unemployment has fallen in recent years, that’s done little to help many hardworking Americans. Some 10 million people nationally remain unemployed or underemployed despite wanting to improve their job status. But many of the jobs created recently aren’t full time, pay too little or don’t offer necessities such as health insurance or retirement benefits.
Any old job won’t do. Too many won’t lift Americans out of poverty so workers can share in the nation’s economic recovery. Businesses need to invest in worker training so they have the necessary skills that not only pay well, but help companies and the economy grow. But it is unlikely to happen on its own without lawmakers getting involved.
That’s why the Teamsters were encouraged to see congressional Democrats last week roll out a new agenda that will focus on raising wages and improving jobs skills. It also stressed that workers should be treated fairly when it comes to job protections, health care, work-life balance and retirement.
To create good jobs that will fuel economic expansion, our country needs to have a well-trained workforce. The Democrats’ “A Better Deal” proposal calls for an increase in registered apprenticeships and work-based learning programs by doubling federal funding for them. If Congress makes such programs a priority, young people and those currently out of work can benefit from the increased government investment. That will raise wages while reducing the burden on various public assistance programs.
As it stands, only about 500,000 participate in such apprenticeships nationwide. That’s not nearly enough. One way to raise those numbers would be to implement the LEARNS (Leveraging Effective Apprenticeships to Rebuild National Skills) Act offered by Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and co-sponsored by Reps. John Conyers, Dan Kildee and Debbie Dingell of Michigan.
Additionally, there is a need to create a network of partnerships that blend classroom learning and worksite training. The added benefit is training will only be given for sectors where jobs are available. Employers can help shape a curriculum taught in community colleges and technical schools.
Changes need to go beyond training, however. For example, as the Teamsters has noted repeatedly, those who work all their lives with the promise of a pension should be able to collect on it when their working days are done. They deserve the benefits they’ve earned.
There is also a need for workers to be treated with dignity. That’s why the proposal also seeks to address paid family leave, fair scheduling, child care costs and prescription drug prices, among other things. Those doing their all to earn a decent living shouldn’t be overburdened by the necessities of life.
These are not new ideas. In fact, the Roosevelt Institute — on whose board I serve — raised many of them in a report released last year. But workers have needed someone to prioritize them. Franklin D. Roosevelt was that leader in a previous generation. We can only hope those in charge now take the reins and follow through so workers and the economy can benefit.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.