Key Issues > By Topic > Employment in a Changing Economy
employment icon, source: GAO

Employment in a Changing Economy

The nation’s workforce system plays a critical role in helping job seekers upgrade their skills and providing needed supports, especially in the wake of the recent historically severe recession.

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The nation’s workforce system is a shared responsibility of federal and state governments, with substantial flexibility for states—and in many cases local areas—to customize programs. The system includes supports for job seekers such as Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits and multiple employment and training programs with diverse target populations. A slow economic recovery, heightened levels of long-term unemployment, and continual shifts in the skills sought by employers are among the factors that present challenges for these programs. Sustained attention is needed on how the workforce system can be strengthened in a period of high demand and increasingly constrained federal resources.

Key areas of concern include:

  • Supports for the unemployed. The long term decline of states’ funding of their UI programs, culminating in widespread borrowing by state trust funds and the dire financial condition of the program, raise critical questions about the ability of the program to function as it has in the past. The period of time displaced workers could receive UI benefits was temporarily extended to up to 99 weeks, but some of these benefits are scheduled to expire by 2014 so it will be important to monitor trends in long-term unemployment.
  • Employment and training programs. In light of continuing challenges employers face in meeting certain skill needs, there is a growing recognition of the need for these programs to better collaborate with employers to align services and training with employers’ needs. With respect to program performance, more information is needed about what works and for whom.
  • Serving specific populations. Some populations can present unique challenges, such as older workers experiencing long-term unemployment, students with disabilities transitioning from high school and the increasing numbers of veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce. In addition, the extent of women’s progress in reducing gender wage differences in the workplace is an issue of continuing importance.
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    • Kris Nguyen
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