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NYT: After Training, Still Scrambling for Employment

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Mon Jul 19 2010

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(From the New York Times) In what was beginning to feel like a previous life, Israel Valle had earned $18 an hour as an executive assistant to a designer at a prominent fashion label. Now, he was jobless and struggling to find work. He decided to invest in upgrading his skills.

It was February 2009, and the city work force center in Downtown Brooklyn was jammed with hundreds of people hungry for paychecks. His caseworker urged him to take advantage of classes financed by the federal government, which had increased money for job training. Upgrade your skills, she counseled. Then she could arrange job interviews.

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For six weeks, Mr. Valle, 49, absorbed instruction in spreadsheets and word processing. He tinkered with his resume. But the interviews his caseworker eventually arranged were for low-wage jobs, and they were mobbed by desperate applicants. More than a year later, Mr. Valle remains among the record 6.8 million Americans who have been officially jobless for six months or longer. He recently applied for welfare benefits.

"Training was fruitless," he said. "I'm not seeing the benefits. Training for what? No one's hiring."

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have enrolled in federally financed training programs in recent years, only to remain out of work. That has intensified skepticism about training as a cure for unemployment.

Even before the recession created the bleakest job market in more than a quarter-century, job training was already producing disappointing results. A study conducted for the Labor Department tracking the experience of 160,000 laid-off workers in 12 states from mid-2003 to mid-2005 - a time of economic expansion - found that those who went through training wound up earning little more than those who did not, even three and four years later. "Over all, it appears possible that ultimate gains from participation are small or nonexistent," the study concluded.

In the last 18 months, the Obama administration has embraced more promising approaches to training focused on faster-growing areas like renewable energy and health care. But most money has been directed at the same sorts of programs that in past years have largely failed to steer laid-off workers toward new careers, say experts, and now the number of job openings is vastly outnumbered by people out of work.

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