In a March 19 post on Yahoo Finance, I was struck, actually alarmed, by data cited from the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI) suggesting that 40 percent of those currently unemployed, particularly those separated from the manufacturing sector, are permanently unemployable. ECRI’s spokesperson said “the recovery is happening….it’s very real, but the economy does not want their skills for one reason or another.” What an assessment! Being a Baby Boomer, I entered adulthood with a standard belief that anyone in this country who wanted to work, and worked hard enough, could get a job. Clearly, those days are over.
Seriously, what are we going to do with that 40 percent who may be permanently unemployable? How discouraging it must be for many to also face the realization that their skills and work experience have been rendered obsolete by changing industrial and business processes, and technological advances in the workplace. And what about those who have not been successful in the labor market because their basic skills have not been sufficient for the old economy, forget about the new economy? This means millions of people without incomes and pathways to establish wealth and economic stability.
So what do they do? How do they know what skills for which to train now during the recovery? Who can they turn to help patch together the financial and family support resources needed to gain new credentials? These are steep hills to climb in an America that has not invested in building the needed adult education and re-training policies, and systems to answer these questions effectively for large swaths of the population. Millions of low-skilled breadwinners are locked onto the lowest rungs of the economic ladders. They face a continuous future of part-time and dead-end jobs and layoffs because of their limited skills and lack of credentials necessary for success in a knowledge-based economy. What happens to these people, already behind in economic success and now, exponentially falling further away from the American dream?
It is a critical time to exert leadership to tackle this dilemma. Now is the time for philanthropic leadership and partnerships among funders to catalyze new thinking about the low-skilled labor market while the economic recovery is starting to swing upward. The National Fund for Workforce Solutions is one collaborative implementing solutions in 21 regions across the country. At the Council’s annual conference in Denver, join the conversation with the Fund and other collaboratives about what philanthropic funders are doing to help workers and businesses organize for new economic realities on Monday, April 26 at 3:30 p.m. and at an Advanced Practice Institute on Tuesday, April 27. To learn more visit www.nfwsolutions.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Powers is the project director for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.