Kamala Harris Gonna Buy You A Job
Sen. Kamala Harris introduced a bill Wednesday that would give people money -- directly! -- for job training. As is mandatory, it includes a clever acronym: the "21st Century Skills are Key to Individuals' Life-Long Success (SKILLS) Act." The proposal would provide individual accounts up to $8,000, which could be used for education or training programs as well as for transportation or childcare to allow people to attend such training. Harris's office says as many as 78 million Americans could be helped by the plan. Just as long as none of them sign up for "Trump University."
Harris's press release says the bill is targeted at a job market where new technology and economic trends like offshoring have created "unprecedented challenges" for workers trying to keep up. Problem is,
52% of unemployed Americans believe they need more education or training for the jobs they want—but only 26% took a class or pursued additional training to acquire those skills.
Ever the crazy liberal, Harris seems to think getting training might be a lot more feasible if people had money to get training, rather than giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy and hoping eventually corporations decide to hire people instead of plowing the money into stock buybacks. The SKILLS Act would establish accounts that could be used for training and related costs, based on the individual applicant's current employment status and income:
• $8,000 if they are unemployed, dislocated, or employed and earning under 50% of state median income.
• $6,000 if they are employed and earning 50-75% of state median income.
• $4,000 if they are employed and earning 75-100% of state median income.
Those funds could be accessed once every five years, so people could continue to improve their abilities. A discussion at Vox notes that Harris's plan -- and government help with job training generally -- could help offset a sad reality in Our Great Market Economy: A lot of employers no longer want to bother hiring people and then training them, preferring instead to only look for potential workers who come to the job with the skills the employers want.
A Harris spokesperson told Vox that the $8,000 figure was arrived at after consulting with job training experts. It might not cover every last training program from start to finish, but would be the boost many people might need to become more employable.
It will be necessary to guard against training funds getting sucked up by scammy for-profit "schools" -- like the now-defunct "Trump University" or the for-profit colleges so beloved of Betsy DeVos. Vox's experts worry Harris's bill might need some beefing up in that regard, since currently, it only directs states to "set minimum levels of performance for training providers" -- and in some states, that could amount to no real standards at all.
"If states are in charge of authorizing them, it could open up to a bunch of fly-by-night operators," cautions Penn State education policy professor Kevin Kinser. "This is what happened with the original GI bill after World War II, and in order to solve the problem, Congress basically created the accreditation system we have today to authorize educational institutions for financial aid purposes."
That's a bit of education history we did not know! Yes, we'd want standards with more teeth -- perhaps import the "no government funds to for-profit colleges" provision from Elizabeth Warren's education policy, with perhaps a dollop of Julián Castro's suggestion that for-profit schools could become real nonprofits if they want taxpayer dollars.
Gosh, this bunch of 2020 candidates is putting some neat ideas out there -- whoever gets the nomination will have an exciting menu of policy options to choose from, while the other side has no actual plans at all. Now all we have to do is find a way to explain, without sounding too much like Adlai Stevenson, that anger and resentment are not policies.
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