President Trump’s Budget Breaks His Promises to Workers—Again
This column contains a correction.
President Donald Trump ran on and was purportedly elected to deliver good jobs.* So far, however, his jobs agenda has amounted to little more than threats to strip workers’ health care and promises to slash corporate taxes and reward companies shipping jobs overseas. His budget is the latest in a series of attacks on workers. Not only does it fail to deliver jobs; it also decimates programs designed to help workers.*
President Trump’s newly released “skinny budget” would make disastrous cuts to vital programs that have a real impact on the lives and pocketbooks of families across the country. If implemented, the cuts would reduce wages, hollow out protections that keep Americans safe on the job and ensure they are paid the wages they earn, and gut worker training programs that help workers secure good jobs and raise their wages.
Cuts to job training will force costs onto vulnerable workers
Each year, more than 20 million workers receive some assistance through a network of federally funded and locally operated American Job Centers authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA. These programs help the long-term unemployed find jobs, retrain displaced workers for new careers, upskill incumbent workers, engage disconnected youth in school or work, and provide adults with basic literacy services, including English as a Second Language, or ESL.
President Trump’s budget would impose a 21 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Labor’s annual budget. While the budget proposal is light on details, the administration’s proposal would essentially gut support for formula grants that fund training and employment services largely benefiting unemployed or underemployed adults and opportunity youth. It would also reduce funding for additional unspecified job training grants.
The impact of these cuts would be devastating. According to the House Appropriations Committee minority staff, a 21 percent cut to the Department of Labor, combined with other cuts enumerated in the budget, would mean a 35 percent cut to WIOA. A 35 percent across-the-board cut to the WIOA formula programs serving adults, dislocated workers, and youth would result in more than 2.7 million adults and youth losing access to job training and employment services in 2018 alone. Funding for these programs, which has been cut by nearly 40 percent since 2001, increased slightly following the passage of WIOA in 2014. Not only would the Trump budget eliminate recent gains, but it would also cause funding to plunge to unprecedented levels.
In addition to the major formula programs, the budget would also shutter an undisclosed number of Job Corps centers, which provide residential job training and education services to disadvantaged youth with barriers to employment, and would eliminate a program designed to help low-income seniors find work. In 2015, the Senior Community Service Employment Program, or SCSEP, placed more than 65,000 seniors into community service. Seniors who participate in SCSEP are overwhelmingly low-income; 20 percent have disabilities, and more than half are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Last year, Job Corps enrolled thousands of economically disadvantaged young people, helping them transition into postsecondary employment or the workforce. It is not clear whether the young people served by closing centers will receive any further services. The budget would also cut $3.9 billion from the Pell Grant program, which many low-income workers rely on to pay for training at community and technical colleges.
Although the budget does indicate that it would help states expand apprenticeship, the remainder of the budget is focused squarely on dismantling essential programs and services.
These cuts would inevitably make it more difficult for workers to access services and would shift the costs and associated risks of training onto workers. Yet the workers who seek these services are often in no position to finance training themselves. More than half of adult participants in federally funded workforce development programs are low-income, and one-quarter rely on some form of public assistance. Among youth served, 94 percent are low-income, 16 percent have disabilities, and 12 percent are pregnant or parenting. For these workers, losing access to these programs would be devastating.
Just three years ago, with the support of nearly every member of Congress, WIOA, which modernized federal investments in job training and employment services, became law. WIOA calls for increasing annual funding for workforce development programs, which Congress has supported in the past two appropriations cycles. Under this budget, it would be impossible for Congress to keep its promise to continue to invest in workers.
Lawbreaking companies will get away with stealing workers’ wages and putting them in harm’s way
The vast majority of U.S. companies respect their employees and comply with the laws designed to keep workers safe on the job and paid the wages owed to them. Yet 93 Americans, on average, are killed on the job every week. And millions of working Americans are cheated out of the wages they have earned every year when lawbreaking companies fail to pay minimum wage or overtime or require their employees to work off the clock.
By cutting the Labor Department’s budget by more than one-fifth, President Trump’s plan would dramatically hinder the agency’s ability to protect workers when companies cheat them out of their wages or jeopardize their safety. Moreover, Trump’s skinny budget zeros out $11 million in funding for safety grants used to train workers and employers on how to avoid and prevent accidents in industries at high risk for violations. Last year, these grants benefited autoworkers in Michigan, home care workers in New Mexico, construction workers in Florida, and agricultural workers in Iowa.
If implemented, these cuts could reverse the declining rate of worker deaths in the United States and unravel the advances of the Labor Department under the Obama administration, which, compared with the Bush administration, recovered more than 50 percent more in back wages stolen from workers—for a total of $267 million in fiscal year 2016—and almost tripled the amount of money collected for workers who were retaliated against for reporting safety violations. To do so required adequate funds. Indeed, the Obama administration increased the number of wage enforcement staff by more than 40 percent; implemented a strategic focus on industries with the greatest likelihood of workplace violations; and strengthened protections for whistleblowers who report safety violations.
Yet under President Trump’s budget, too many workers may have to fend for themselves when unscrupulous employers violate their rights under the law.
Job-creating economic development programs will disappear
President Trump campaigned on a promise to bring back good manufacturing jobs, yet his budget undermines that promise by completely eliminating programs designed to create and retain American jobs.
This includes federal funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP, a 30-year-old private-public partnership that focuses on helping small and midsized manufacturers compete. MEP has worked with more than 86,000 manufacturers and created almost 800,000 new jobs since its inception. For every $1 of federal investment, MEP generates $17 in new sales growth and $24 in new client investment. This has benefited workers, as MEP creates or retains one manufacturing job for every $1,900 of federal investment.
The budget would also completely eliminate funding for the Economic Development Administration, a government agency that explicitly focuses on helping the sorts of distressed communities that helped elect President Trump. This would eliminate Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms, a program that provides technical assistance to firms that have been hurt by foreign competition.
It would also eliminate the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, a program that has supported manufacturing in places such as Southeastern Michigan, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh. And it would end the Regional Innovation Strategies program, which develops clusters of innovation and entrepreneurship in rural and urban communities across America.
Essential services that improve workers’ lives and well-being will be decimated
In addition to cutting funding for worker training, protections, and safety, the budget would make deep cuts to other essential programs supporting working families.
The federal budget provides a variety of services that allow low-income working families essential services such as legal assistance when their rights are violated; heating assistance during winter months; access to local banks so that workers can buy homes and start businesses; and after care programs for working families. Yet under President Trump’s budget, all these would be eliminated.
The primary funder of civil legal assistance, the Legal Services Corporation helps uphold labor standards—particularly for lower-paid workers who cannot afford to hire expensive private legal counsel—by offering workers fair recourse against an employer who violates their rights. It also helps workers who face barriers to opportunity—particularly those with low-level criminal records—secure job opportunities. If the Legal Services Corporation is eliminated, people will struggle to surmount those barriers and remain consigned to low-wage work and spells of unemployment.
Also under threat, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program allows low-income workers to maintain basic living standards for their families so that they can maintain stable and safe home lives and participate productively in the workforce.
After-school and summer programs—also on the chopping block—allow the parents of young children to participate in the labor force because full-time and inflexible jobs often run longer than typical school hours, and many low-income workers cannot afford the high cost of child care. These programs create jobs for their instructors, and by giving children a safe, high-quality learning environment in their formative years, these programs enhance the productivity of our future workforce.
The 1,000 community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, that currently operate across the country expand financial services and institutions for low-income communities. CDFIs range from local banks and credit unions to venture capital providers, all of which strengthen families’ economic stability, and the funds from them can often be employed to create health care and/or community centers. Low-income workers rely on these institutions for loans that help them supplement their incomes and allow them to finance mortgages, education, and more.
President Trump’s budget proposal represents yet another broken promise to workers he assured he would protect. Deep cuts to job training, worker protections, supportive services, and economic development strategies make it clear that he has no plans to help workers find good jobs that pay decent wages. Even worse, his budget proposal would wreak havoc on essential programs and services that improve workers’ lives.
In the coming months, the administration will unveil a more comprehensive budget that details how the proposed cuts will be levied. If the president continues down this path, it is workers who will pay the price.
Angela Hanks is the Associate Director for Workforce Development Policy on the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress.
* Correction, March 17, 2017: This column has been updated to reflect the level of certainty surrounding how much Trump’s jobs platform contributed to his election.
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Director, Workforce Development Policy