Editorial: Future success needs to be focus of reforming unemployment system

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Over winter break, while many enjoyed holiday festivities with family members and an egregious consumption of Netflix, Congress left many struggling to determine their financial stability in 2014. Last week, 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans lost their benefits.

President George W. Bush’s five-year program to help ease the burden many faced during the Great Recession ended, leaving many questioning how they’d be able to get by without such assistance from the federal government.

President Obama is working on an initiative with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., in an attempt to extend the benefits for another three months, but it is problematic that our president and Congress are focusing time and money on this initiative instead of getting the unemployed back to work. They should instead refocus these resources on job training.

Benefits certainly ease the financial issues unemployed Americans endure, but programs that assist the demographic should focus their resources on producing the most employable candidates upon their emergence from such programs. The program must train its members for jobs in sectors that are seeking to employ — such as healthcare, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and information technology sectors —  instead of merely providing a cushion with a ticking clock.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, on CNN’s State of the Union program, echoed similar ideas of coupling unemployment benefits with requirements to enroll in job-training measures.

“Whether it’s unemployment compensation or food stamps, we should require job training so that if a job becomes available, they’ve got their gear ready to get in the game,” Walker said, according to MSNBC.

Tying unemployment benefits to job training has the potential to create true change by decreasing the number of Americans that remain unemployed for longer periods. This idea should not be overlooked in Pennsylvania.

According to the House Committee on Ways and Means, Pennsylvania had 73,330 residents cut off from federal aid on Dec. 28, 2013. For every week during the first six months of 2014, 3,573 more Pennsylvanians will lose that aid. 

The federal government should team with job sectors and businesses that are hiring in areas with relatively higher unemployment rates to create training programs in which the unemployed can enroll.

By allotting capital for these businesses to host training sessions, in which they can pay unemployed Americans, businesses will be able to hire the best workers and the unemployed will be able to acquire skills that make them more competitive in the job market.

The system is in dire need of reform, an idea on which representatives from both sides of the political spectrum agree. Although current economic conditions are much friendlier than five years ago, the 4.1 million Americans that have been out of work for longer than six months is a group that needs immediate government attention. Instead of creating an unsustainable program of extensions, the government must work to strengthen the economy by making the unemployed ideal candidates for jobs. 

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