This week, the White House is emphasizing jobs, workforce development, and the skills gap, topics that President Trump has turned to many times during his campaign and presidency. His proposed budget reinforces this theme by emphasizing work requirements for those receiving support from public safety net programs. But his budget proposal also has huge cuts in funding for employment and job training programs, making it more difficult for people to improve their skills and find work.
An Urban Institute analysis of supports used by low-income parents trying to balance work and education or training (about 1 million people in 2011), found that about two-thirds received educational assistance in Pell grants, federal loans, or other support. Some also received support from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps).
This demonstrates that some people enrolled in safety net programs are already working and making efforts to improve their job skills, but can do so only with assistance. Others need supports just to gain a foothold in the job market. But the White House proposes reducing federal funding for SNAP and TANF by $200 billion over the next 10 years.
Proposed budget cuts for career and adult education programs in the US Department of Education would take away support for adult workers trying to improve their position in the job market. Without these programs, it will be harder for low-skill workers and low-income workers, including those receiving public assistance, to gain secure footing in the changing labor market.
In addition, under the proposed budget, federal funding for the Department of Labor’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act programs would be reduced 40 percent, taking a billion dollars away from programs for adults, youth, and dislocated workers (workers whose jobs have disappeared). This could mean that 7 to 8 million fewer people a year would receive services, assuming the budget cut reduces the number of people served by the same percentage.
The White House expects states will increase support for these programs, but most states are strapped for funds or will need to step up support for other programs where federal funding will also be reduced.
The White House budget also proposes eliminating the employment program for low-income seniors, reducing funding for employment programs for people with disabilities, and cutting funding for jobs programs for people being released from jails and prisons.
The budget for the Women’s Bureau, which has informed the nation about women’s employment issues and opportunities for over 97 years, would be cut more than 74 percent. This would likely end its educational workshops, like the ones preparing women for apprenticeship training, and forums, like their recent event on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers for women, which was attended by representatives from businesses, schools, training institutions, and state programs.
The budget also proposes to zero out the Community Services Block Grant, which provides funding to over 1,000 Community Action Agencies, many of which refer people to job training programs and provide services such as emergency food and transportation assistance. Although this block grant funding has not been enough to fully support what the agencies do, it covers some of the services that make job training connections possible.
Increasing jobs is important to the White House’s domestic policy agenda. But when the national unemployment rate hovers around the low rate of 4 percent, the way to increase employment is to focus on those on the margins of the job market—that is, people who are unemployed or not fully employed in good jobs. Trump’s proposed budget instead cuts federal investments for training and employment services for these workers while proposing stricter work requirements for the safety net benefits many workers rely on.