Building a trampoline

In yesterday’s posting, I discussed the need to revamp our unemployment insurance system. But much more needs to be done. A decade ago, I wrote a paper for the Progressive Policy Institute outlining how the safety nets could be turning into a trampoline — Making the Global Economy Work for Every Worker: An Agenda for Expanding the Winners’ Circle. That paper outlined three sets of actions:

•  Building a rapid re-employment system. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 made a promising start toward turning the crazy-quilt of government re- employment and adjustment assistance programs into a comprehensive system. Government policy should take the next steps to: 1) directly tie the unemployment insurance system to the training program in a comprehensive re-employment framework and 2) replace the multitude of specialized adjustment assistance programs with a broad- based adjustment program. Our goal is a seamless system driven by choice, competition, and information. This system would give workers information about training and education opportunities, vendors, and the job market, letting them make informed choices.
•  Creating a lifelong learning system. The New Economy has blurred the distinction between learning and work. Skills are no longer something taught once and for all. To succeed, workers must constantly adapt their abilities and knowledge to new employment circumstances and technologies. To meet this need, we must develop new public-private systems to give workers continual opportunities to learn and upgrade their skills, regardless of their current job status. Government’s role should be to facilitate and leverage private resources to ensure both workers and companies get the tools and skills they need to prosper in this new environment.
•  Promoting worker empowerment and ownership. Workers need more control over their jobs, their financial resources, and their futures. We must foster true worker empowerment in the workplace through incentives, educational activities, and new labor laws. We must revise the pension and health care system to give individuals more control over these important parts of their lives. We should strive to give workers a greater financial stake in their companies and the health of the New Economy. And we must help all Americans share in the prosperity by helping to build wealth and assets.

These ideas probably need to be updated to take in to account policies developed since they were proposed over 10 years ago. But the basic ideas remain the valid. We need a coordinated system of worker (and company) assistance to make sure these basic building blocks of economic activity are competitive in the I-Cubed Economy.

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