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January 2013, Volume 19, Number 1

MSFW Programs, Training

MHS. The Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) program provides early childhood education to children below the age of mandatory school attendance whose families have incomes below the poverty line and who receive at least 50 percent of earnings from crop agriculture. Migrant farm worker parents must have changed their residence at least once in the previous two years, while seasonal workers must be engaged in seasonal work on crop farms.

The NAWS added questions to its regular interviews in 2008 and 2009 to determine who participated in the MSHS Program. In both years, only about a third of those interviewed with children under six met MSHS criteria, that is, poverty-level income and more than 50 percent of earnings from farm work.

Head Start received $7.9 billion in federal funding in FY12 to serve 962,000 children with 30,000 administrators, teachers and aids. The MSHS received about $250 million to provide services to the children of MSFWs at 400 sites around the US in 2012.

MEP. The federal government's Migrant Education Program made $390 million in grants to state and local school districts to provide services to MSFWs or, more often, their children. To qualify for MEP services, the child or his/her parent must have crossed school district lines, and eligibility workers must document the qualifying move.

The MEP provided a total of $12 to Indiana in FY10 and FY11 that the state did not spend to educate the children of MSFWs. A report released in December 2012 noted that three-fourths of the migrant children in Indiana moved north from Texas, Georgia and Florida for the summer months. The number of children identified as MEP-eligible fell from about 7,000 in 2007 to 1,000 in 2011.

Training. A Brookings Institution conference on December 12, 2012 highlighted the federal government's role in training workers via the Workforce Investment Act and discussed the value of a four-year college degree and a national skills-credentialing system. Andy Van Kleunen of the National Skills Coalition warned against folding targeted federal training programs for farm workers, Indians, veterans and others into omnibus programs, asserting that the targeted populations may not be served adequately in omnibus programs.

DOL's American Job Centers, formerly called one-stops, provide a variety of services to jobless workers and those looking to increase their earnings with additional training.

It is sometimes reported that US manufacturers, who employed 11.5 million workers in Fall 2012, cannot fill hundreds of thousands of jobs that pay $15 or more an hour. However, a Boston Consulting Group report in October 2012 estimated that manufacturers have at most 80,000 to 100,000 vacancies for highly skilled workers, less than one percent of the total manufacturing workforce and eight percent of what BCG estimated could be 1.4 million highly skilled manufacturing jobs.

BCG focused on wage growth and job vacancy rates in 50 cities, and found five cities including Wichita where manufacturing wages rose by at least three percent more than inflation for five consecutive years. BCG concluded that skilled labor shortages were localized and most prevalent in smaller cities. BCG, which concluded that skilled manufacturing workers are on average 56 years old, predicted that low US wages and low energy costs might increase the number of US manufacturing jobs and the demand for machinists, welders and industrial engineers.

Peter Cappelli of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School agrees that there are few shortages of skilled workers. Instead, Cappelli believes that jobs are going unfilled because employers are not willing to pay higher wages or to hire inexperienced workers and train them.

Cappelli asserted that "apprenticeship training programs are largely dead," and that few employers want to hire fresh graduates who lack work experience. Cappelli further asserted that many graduates with degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) get jobs outside these fields.

Many retailers, hotels and restaurants hire part-time workers to save on wages and benefits. Part-time service workers are often paid $10 to $11 an hour and have few benefits, while full-time workers often earn $12 to $15 an hour and have more benefits. Software from Dayforce and Kronos allows service firms to pinpoint demand so that part-time workers can be called in for two- or three-hour shifts.

About 30 percent of those employed in retailing are part-time, and 30 percent of part-time retail workers would prefer full-time work. Many retailers hire more part-time workers rather than converting part-timers to full-time, helping to maximize their variable costs by pushing the risk of market fluctuations onto workers in the form of variable hours of work.

Unemployment. The US unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in December 2012, but private sector employers continued to add jobs. The US added 1.8 million jobs in 2012, an average 150,000 a month. Between December 2008 and December 2012, the private sector added a net 725,000 jobs while government employment fell by 697,000, that is, there was a slight increase in private sector jobs over four years and a decline of over three percent in government jobs.

Some five million Americans, 40 percent of the 12 million unemployed, were jobless six months or more. UI benefits normally last for 26 weeks; there are growing fears that the long-term unemployed will have difficulty finding jobs as the economy recovers. Many employers prefer fresh graduates to the long-term unemployed, prompting proposals to provide tax credits to firms who hire workers who have been jobless six months or more.

During and after the 2008-09 recession, federal and state governments provided $300 billion in unemployment insurance benefits. The federal government provided $5 billion more than the normal $11 billion for retraining programs supported by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), but most of the federal effort was for UI benefits rather than retraining.

Some 154 million US workers were employed sometime in 2011, including 101 million full-time, year-round workers, seven million fewer than the 148 million in 2007. There were 33 million part-time workers and 20 million workers who worked full-time but only part of the year. Some 24 million workers experienced at least one spell of unemployment in 2011; their median duration of unemployment was 20 weeks.

Unions are pressing President Obama to raise the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 an hour since 2009. Almost 45 percent of the 1.9 million jobs added to the US economy since recovery from the 2008-09 recession were in the retail, food service and temporary help industries, where minimum wages are common. Bills pending in Congress would raise the federal minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2014 or 2015.

Economic growth has benefited primarily the richest households. The CBO estimated that, between 1979 and 2007, the richest one percent of US households saw their incomes rise 275 percent in real terms, while the poorest 20 percent had an 18 percent increase in real income. Globalization and technological changes that benefit the most educated are expected to continue to increase economic inequality.