McCain Touts Retraining Displaced Workers
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Republican presidential candidate John McCain toured a General Motors plant today in Ohio. GM's plant in Lordstown is a rare bright spot for the automaker. It makes the smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles that are suddenly more popular as the price of gasoline soars. Other GM plants that produce trucks and SUVs are cutting back and cutting jobs by the thousands.
McCain has said retraining is the answer for many workers, but he's looking for ways to do that without promising a lot of tax dollars. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: John McCain had a blunt message for voters in Michigan earlier this year. Some of the jobs their state has lost aren't coming back. Maybe he was too blunt. He lost the Michigan primary by nine points. So he knows he'll need a better answer if he's going to win the big industrial states like Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Here he is in Pittsburgh in April.
NORRIS: If I'm elected president, I'll work with Congress and the states to make job training and unemployment insurance what it should be - a swift plan from a job that's not coming back to a job that won't go away.
HORSLEY: In the months since then, McCain hasn't offered a lot of detail about the kind of training program he envisions. But he does know where he wants it to be based.
NORRIS: We'll draw on the great strengths of America's community colleges, applying the funds from federal training accounts to give displaced workers of every age a fresh start with new skills and new opportunities.
HORSLEY: At a community college in San Diego, opportunity arrives in a shower of sparks. Daniel Serrano is practicing for a MIG welding test. The former truck driver has been studying here for about ten months now. He's already landed one welding job and thinks he'll get a better one, as soon as he's proven his new skills.
NORRIS: Hoping in a couple weeks I got a couple job offers so when I finish this test, hopefully I'll be making more - way more money than I'm usually making right now.
HORSLEY: San Diego lost 3,200 jobs last month as the local unemployment rate climbed to its highest level in five years. But welding instructor Dennis Horne(ph) says there's plenty of work for his graduates in shipyards and on construction sites. He says the community college pays close attention to which local companies are hiring.
NORRIS: Local industry actually directs everything that we do and that's very good because those are the people that are going to hire our students.
HORSLEY: Down the hall from the welding shop there are classes in culinary skills, office work, and commercial printing. The problem, Horne says, is there aren't enough spaces available.
NORRIS: We have horrendous numbers of people waiting to come into a program like that, but the only thing is we don't have the economics to take care of that. Also, we're having problems finding qualified people to teach some of this.
HORSLEY: The federal government provides some money to retrain workers, especially those who've lost their jobs on account of international trade. But a report last year from the Government Accountability Office found the program's hampered by a lack of flexibility. And Howard Rosen, who heads the Trade Adjustment Assistance Coalition, says the training doesn't reach all the workers who need it.
NORRIS: What we have found is that politicians tend to talk a lot about training. And as they do, we spend less and less on it.
HORSLEY: Rosen says the federal government spends only half as much on job training as a percentage of the overall economy as it did a dozen years ago. Barack Obama's campaign notes that in 2002 McCain voted against giving money to community colleges to offer training to laid off textile workers. McCain's campaign says he didn't object to the community college element of that bill, only to it's being limited to one group of workers. His campaign notes McCain voted in favor of community college funding back in the 1990s.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.
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