Where We Are

(Updated Below)

You can have food, but only if you train for jobs that don’t exist:

Sherry Hooper, director of Food Depot in northern New Mexico, said demand for food help is up 30 percent since 2008. Ranching, mining and tourism industries that once supported residents of the remote area have fallen on hard times, she said, and because of rural isolation, many poor families have to shop at gas stations. “They’re expecting people to seek jobs that are just not there,” she said.

A spokesman for the state human services department, Matt Kennicott, said the state wants people to be more self-sufficient but is not trying to take benefits away or save money.  Unemployed workers can keep food stamps if they can document job training, he said. “There are jobs available,” said Kennicott. “The people in the work force don’t necessarily have the skills required by those employers. We need to get those people trained.” (my emphasis)

I fear there is still too much of this kind of policy disconnect abroad in the land. Are there jobs or aren’t there? You can’t make an economic collapse go away by shouting “job training” at it. Denying food stamp benefits to people who truly cannot find jobs is terrible policy for fairly obvious reasons. But tying food stamp eligibility to participation in training is also terrible policy. It’s clearly unfair if training is not available to everyone who needs it. I have no idea if there is enough job training available in this part of New Mexico to meet the demand, although I’m willing to bet there’s not. But even if there is, it’s still terrible policy, because there will always be people who need these benefits who won’t be able to participate in job training (due to age, disability, etc.).

And training people to do jobs that don’t exist doesn’t make any sense either—again, for fairly obvious reasons. Most responsible workforce advocates understand this, but it appears to me that some policymakers think that simply saying the magic words “job training” somehow obviates the need to address poverty and unemployment in a humane and coherent fashion.

UPDATE 8/20/14: I slightly rewrote the last sentence of this post to more accurately reflect the point I was trying to make.