This op-ed was featured in the Boston Business Journal on 3.10.21. Click here to view the BBJ version (may be subject to paywall).
As we approach the one year anniversary of the initial lockdown due to COVID-19, our economy is recovering, albeit slowly, and continues to show significant signs of vulnerability. The uncertainty of federal fiscal support experienced by states and local governments has left many areas cobbling together a patchwork of programs and strategies to move forward with further reopening, schooling, etc. Since the Biden-Harris administration took office and the Georgia Senate races allowed Democrats to narrowly control the Senate, there has been more optimism by economists, like those on the MassBenchmarks Board or President Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed, but always with the caveat that their optimism depends on the effectiveness of vaccine distribution and keeping the pandemic under control.
Since the early days of the pandemic, there has been agreement that the public health crisis and the resulting downturn further exacerbated long-existing inequities and disparities. Massachusetts has lost more than 335K jobs, most of which were in hospitality, retail and the restaurant industries. Some of these jobs won’t be there for workers to return to once the pandemic lifts, as many businesses have closed for good. The unemployment swing from 2.4% in December 2019 to 7.4% in December 2020 doesn’t include the many who have dropped out of the labor market, predominantly women and people of color. While more than 271,000 workers are currently unemployed, nearly 209,000 are underemployed – discouraged from searching for work and/or working less hours than they’d like.
Michelle Weise, a thought leader on the future of work, recently cited in the Boston Business Journal that federal investment in training equates to just $574 for each American seeking services from their regional workforce boards, earning the United States the second-to-last rank among 29 developed nations in investing in taxpayer-funded training. Federal funding for the Massachusetts public workforce system has declined 28% over the past 6 years, with some regions of the state experiencing much greater declines. This has led to career center closures, staff layoffs, and a decrease in services for job seekers and businesses throughout the state.
Thousands of individuals who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic face the prospect of long term unemployment without access to education and training opportunities for the jobs that will be available. MassHire Career Centers and Workforce Boards play a key role in helping those who are on unemployment insurance and/or looking for work find jobs and upskilling opportunities. Career Center staff help connect individuals to training and education opportunities, case manage to ensure they succeed, and connect those who complete to in-demand jobs at local businesses. As Massachusetts and the nation transitions from pandemic response to recovery efforts, funding for job training and reskilling programs, as well as our state’s workforce infrastructure (MassHire Career Centers), will help ensure individuals continue to have access to critical assistance and services.