This report reviews trade adjustment assistance and other assistance programs, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement Transitional Adjustment Assistance (NAFTA-TAA) program, to determine if they have helped distressed communities deal with the adverse impacts of trade. GAO conducted case studies in six such trade-impacted communities, all of which experienced major trade-related plant closures and layoffs in the mid- to late-1990s. Two communities lost a large percentage of local jobs in sudden plant closures and experienced economic crises. The other communities experienced rolling layoffs or a series of smaller plant closures that dislocated as many or more workers but did so gradually. Experiences in the communities GAO visited indicate that Temporary Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and NAFTA-TAA assistance to dislocated workers, although substantial, could be implemented more effectively. Program administrators and training providers in each community said that the programs have structural problems that impede effective service delivery. One factor that influenced the implementation of training benefits in many communities is that a significant percentage of dislocated workers needed to earn a high school equivalency degree or take remedial courses before they could even start a training program. Case study communities' experience with economic adjustment showed that the assistance available to them was limited and that there are no easy answers to community recovery, even when funds are available. These communities had relied on low-skilled manufacturing jobs, which are disappearing, and now face the difficult task of diversifying their economies while addressing fundamental human capital issues. These communities' experiences with efforts to assist dislocated workers and adjust to changing economic conditions offer several lessons. Program administrators and training providers said that bureaucratic rigidities in dislocated workers programs limited their flexibility in addressing dislocated workers' diverse training needs. Also, local officials believe that dislocated worker training programs are more effective and job placements much higher when strong links exist between training and local business needs.
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