Trump’s Agenda Undermines America’s Workforce

A social worker listens as an employment specialist interviews a program participant, center, at a foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 2017.

President Donald Trump claims to be focused on advancing policies that will put Americans back to work. Yet a closer look at his agenda reveals that his policies would do nothing to create jobs. Instead, his agenda actively undermines essential training and supportive services that workers need to find and maintain employment.

This week—which the administration has dubbed “workforce development week”—is just the latest example. During a speech on Thursday, President Trump outlined a set of proposals aimed at expanding apprenticeships and reorganizing existing workforce development programs. Unfortunately, the proposals that the president has put forth are hopelessly misguided and would likely reduce workers’ access to quality training programs.

This ill-advised proposal comes on the heels of President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, which would eviscerate U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) funding for job training and employment programs and dedicate only $90 million to expand apprenticeships. The latter represents less than 5 percent of the DOL’s funding for training and employment. These cuts would be devastating for workers. New analysis by the Center for American Progress reveals that cuts to the DOL’s training programs could cost roughly 5.5 million Americans access to critical employment services, such as job training, job search assistance, and career development.*

The harmful impact of these cuts on workers is multiplied by the administration’s inadequate, damaging proposals regarding other key supportive services including health care, child care, housing and transportation assistance, and access to legal services. Supportive services help people participate in and complete job training programs, thus improving their ability to secure steady employment. Rather than putting Americans back to work, the Trump agenda is a recipe for undermining America’s workforce.

New workforce initiatives undermine program quality and access to training and employment services

The administration released an executive order that will allow third-party entities not affiliated with the DOL—including companies, trade associations, and industry groups, as well as other nonprofit and for-profit providers—to recognize apprenticeship programs—rather than the DOL doing so through its existing apprenticeship registration process. Entities that obtain DOL authorization to certify programs will be able to decide for themselves whether to continue using the existing process for program registration.

The apprenticeship system’s current registration process is an indispensable quality assurance mechanism that ensures that programs are compliant with labor standards on issues ranging from wage progression to the provision of on-the-job training to equal opportunity employment. The credential that apprentices obtain after completing an apprenticeship also serves as a clear signal to future employers that the worker possesses the necessary skills. It is not clear from the executive order whether these new, so-called industry-recognized apprenticeships will be required to adhere to the labor standards that have governed apprenticeship programs for four decades. If they are not, this plan would almost certainly leave workers vulnerable to lower-quality programs that lack the characteristics that make apprenticeships attractive to workers and to policymakers on both sides of the aisle. Moreover, allowing programs that have not gone through the requisite quality check to call themselves registered apprenticeships will make it difficult for employers to discern whether a potential employee who has already completed a program has the required skills.

The president has also revived calls for eliminating “ineffective, redundant, or unnecessary” workforce programs, an argument that was put to rest three years ago after nearly every member of Congress voted in favor of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the main source of the nation’s investments in workforce development programs. This law streamlined the workforce system by eliminating 15 programs; by elevating demand-driven strategies, such as industry-led sector partnerships and career pathways; and crucially, by establishing stronger linkages between the public workforce system and apprenticeship programs. Further consolidation would undermine Congress’s work to modernize federal workforce development programs. The administration has also called on agency heads to remove regulatory or practical “obstacles to apprenticeship growth” but has not indicated what those obstacles are. Regardless, President Trump’s new apprenticeship proposal would be cold comfort to the estimated 571,000 people who would lose access to critical employment services under the proposed cuts to the three primary WIOA programs serving adults, youth, and dislocated workers.

Cuts to other essential services will put job training out of reach

In addition to the proposed DOL cuts, the administration has proposed cutting or eliminating services that make it possible for workers to enroll and persist in job training programs. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) surveyed 168 job training administrators, and 97 percent of them agreed that “supportive services are important for retention and completion of job training.” IWPR’s survey of nearly 1,900 job training program participants also showed that such services are critical: Completion rates increased when more services were available.** IWPR’s findings support other research on supportive service needs and job training outcomes. All of these results make clear that to succeed in apprenticeships and ultimately a job, workers need other supports—supports which the Trump administration is actively undermining.

Child care

IWPR’s research showed that more than half of job training administrators say program participants do not complete job training because of insufficient child care—and administrators see a lack of child care assistance as the number one challenge for women. Program participants also identified child care as a key unmet need: Fewer than one-third of job training participants who reported facing challenges in finding or affording child care said that they received supportive services from their training program to help them address their child care needs.

The Trump administration has offered few specifics regarding its agenda for child care. Its campaign proposal does little to help most families afford child care, giving huge tax breaks to the wealthy while failing to provide any assistance to families who need the most help. And President Trump’s recent budget provides insufficient funding for key child care assistance programs, costing more than half a million children assistance in the next decade.

Transportation assistance

Insufficient access to adequate transportation can serve as a barrier to job training participation, and it was ranked by program administrators as among the top five greatest unmet needs for men and women. In fact, barriers to transportation are more prevalent among rural communities, people with disabilities, and people of color. One study of apprentices working in highway construction found that apprentices of color—both male and female—disproportionately experienced challenges in paying for gas to get to and from work, relative to their peers. President Trump is set to create more barriers to transportation with budget cuts to the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts grant program. The New Starts program makes worker commutes easier and more accessible by funding major transportation projects, including commuter rails, street cars, and bus transit.

Housing assistance

Stable and affordable housing is key to training program participation and completion and has been linked to improved economic circumstances, including employment and earnings. Unfortunately, obtaining stable and affordable housing is easier said than done for many working families. Per administrators, housing assistance ranks among one of the highest areas of unmet need for supportive services, particularly for men. Among participants, two-thirds of those experiencing housing difficulties reported that these needs where not addressed by their job training program.

President Trump wants to push safe and stable housing even further out of reach. In his most recent budget proposal, Trump proposed a cut of about $6.8 billion—or nearly 35 percent—to the nation’s fabric of affordable housing. His proposal outright eliminates two key housing programs—the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program—both of which help fund projects related to homeownership, rental housing, and community development. Moreover, his budget cuts Section 8 housing vouchers by nearly $1 billion, putting an estimated 290,700 families at risk of losing these benefits and, in turn, their homes.

Health care

According to IWPR’s research, access to health care, substance abuse issues, and physical and mental health concerns are seen by both program administrators and participants alike as barriers to completing job training programs. More than 3 out of 10 program participants who are struggling with addiction or physical or mental health problems say that their job training programs are not providing the services they need to address their challenges. Similarly, evidence shows that for disconnected youth, integrated programs that include both job training and health and mental health interventions are more likely to lead to positive outcomes. Other research has found that job training programs that include substance abuse treatment efforts have higher rates of completion and job placement.

The congressional Republican agenda on health care—supported by President Trump—is poised to make health challenges worse. The House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cost 23 million people their health coverage over the next decade and put health coverage at risk for people struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. The Senate version of ACA repeal also reportedly threatens health coverage of essential benefits such as mental health and substance abuse treatment. In addition to repealing the ACA, the Trump budget would dramatically cut Medicaid, leaving tens of millions of people without health coverage. Stripping people of critical health benefits and health coverage would leave them less able to train successfully for, obtain, and keep jobs.

Access to legal services

For many working families, legal services stand as the gateway to economic security. They often serve as the access point to solving many other challenges experienced by workers and trainees—such as securing housing assistance, receiving public benefits, and acquiring key domestic violence services. Legal issues, however, were ranked as the challenge least likely to be met by supportive services.

President Trump has further tightened this chokehold on access to legal services. He recently proposed eliminating all funding for the cost-effective Legal Services Corporation, which provides grants to high-quality civil legal aid programs that served almost 2 million low-income Americans in 2015. Trump’s proposal would leave many workers and their families without an entry point to justice, thereby making training opportunities, stable employment, and sufficient earnings less attainable.

President Trump’s executive order is just one more example of rhetoric versus reality. If President Trump were serious about putting Americans to work, he would be creating quality job training proposals that included essential supports and services, rather than gutting supports for workers.

Angela Hanks is the associate director for workforce development policy on the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Katherine Gallagher Robbins is the director of family policy for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center. Jackie Odum is a research associate for the Poverty to Prosperity Program.

* Authors’ calculations are based on program participation and budget data for the Wagner-Peyser Employment Service; Senior Community Service Employment Program; Job Corps (operations budget); Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act adult, youth, and dislocated worker programs; and Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers programs. When a program was not eliminated, service losses were estimated by applying the share of the funding cut to the share of the program participants, though cuts could be implemented in other ways. Methodology is available from the authors upon request.

** Throughout this piece, mentions of administrator and participant surveys refer to these IWPR surveys.