Jeeziz, this is depressing.

Tens of thousands of laid-off workers like Mr. Hutchins have turned to retraining as a lifeline. Yet for all the popularity of these government-financed programs, there are questions about whether they actually work, even as President Obama’s stimulus plan directs $1.4 billion more to retraining and other services for people who have lost their jobs.

In Michigan, where the unemployment rate in May was 14.1 percent, the nation’s highest, 78,000 people are enrolled in the state’s No Worker Left Behind program and 7,800 are on the waiting list. At the Michigan Works job center here, where Mr. Hutchins applied for retraining money, the wait to attend an orientation session is up to two months.

Nonetheless, a little-noticed study the Labor Department released several months ago found that the benefits of the biggest federal job training program were “small or nonexistent” for laid-off workers. It showed little difference in earnings and the chances of being rehired between laid-off people who had been retrained and those who had not.

In other words, we are not investing enough to re-train workers, underestimating the demand, and providing little guidance for them as they switch careers. The article summarizes the Labor Department study’s findings that workers choose short-term programs in desperate need of getting new work, often in fields that are unreliable thanks to the violence of global capitalism; and here’s the bit that should have y’all going “a-duh!”

Job retraining is also ineffective without job creation, a point made by several economists who have long cautioned against placing too much stock in it.

This is not an argument against re-training programs, but frustration with the uncritical, asystematic hype that politicians use to promote such programs. Consider the truism parroted by Michigan’s labor department wonk quoted later on in the article:

“My position is this: Unless you have a highly educated work force, you really don’t have much of a chance,” he said.

Educated in what? For what? To do what? And where? And how many? It’s not just graduates with Master’s Degrees wondering what their diploma is good for; it’s workers with decades of experience in once-valuable trades (indeed, many still valuable, just “dislocated” by globalization forces) who go through community college programs only to find no jobs created for them.

Economies are dynamic, of course. New technologies, resource scarcity, shifts in social needs, unforeseen problems — not to mention bad practices, poor management, gullibility and predation, irresponsible regulation, etc. — transform the work we do and the type of work needed. Speaking as a librarian, I accept that my profession entails “life-long learning” as new forms of information storage and retrieval and new ways of communicating arise; in fact, I like it! Every trade has some requirement that its practitioners keep abrest of new practices and approaches.

The problem is that we, as a society, give too much power to corporations to make these decisions with little oversight or debate over their social impact or preparation for times when even inevitable economic changes force us to retrench. We let workers founder. “Sorry, buggy whip maker, sucks to be you!” Of course we don’t need to subsidize buggy whips or their equivalent; but letting the workers flail around trying to adapt to their economic environment is not only cruel and bad for them, it’s bad for all of us. Job retraining is only one piece of what should be a more systematic approach to reshaping the economy; job creation has to be a significant part of that system.

And yeah, that’s socialism. Suck it.

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