This week, Politico reported that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-OH) appears to be attempting to repackage cuts to Medicaid, food assistance, and affordable housing as “workforce development.” If it were a sincere effort, the idea of offering more workforce development would make sense: It’s good for workers, and it’s actually a popular idea (Ryan himself has acknowledged that openly calling for Medicaid cuts was “not a great buzz phrase.”) However, it seems that this is the latest rebrand of the same old proposals to slash essential benefits for struggling families that Ryan has touted for years.
It’s especially insincere, given the Trump administration’s proposal to gut existing workforce development programs. Its 2018 budget cut funding for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by 43 percent, which would cause 571,000 workers to lose job training and job search assistance. President Trump is also in the process of advancing an apprenticeship proposal that would lead to a proliferation of low-quality programs that don’t offer job-relevant skills or decent wages.
For his part, Ryan seems to be confused about what workforce development actually entails. He told his caucus last night that it needs to “focus on closing the skills gap” by training unemployed workers to take currently open jobs. This incorrectly assumes that a lack of skills is the only thing that’s keeping workers out of the labor market—it’s possible that workers are struggling to find good jobs that pay decent wages. Indeed, 2017 saw the slowest job growth since 2010, and the weakest wage growth in 4 years. Trump and congressional Republicans have also fought to make work worse by advancing policies to weaken workplace protections, make it harder for workers to collectively bargain, make it easier for employers to steal wages from tipped employees, and make it easier for employers to discriminate against workers.
If Speaker Ryan and congressional Republicans truly cared about helping people transition into the labor market, they would support policies like raising the federal minimum wage, strengthening collective bargaining rights, and advancing policies like paid leave and universal child care, which actually help improve the quality of work.
This is the latest rebrand of the same old proposals
Instead, participants at the GOP retreat where Ryan initially floated this idea reported that his proposal would impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients – of whom more than 7 in 10 are caregivers or in school. The move would put at least 6.3 million people at risk of losing their health care outright, and force others into low-quality, low-paying jobs that are more harmful than helpful.
Ultimately, this workforce development push, like welfare reform before it, is about kicking struggling workers while they’re down, and taking away essential benefits from families when they need them most. And while Ryan may have ditched the racially-coded welfare rhetoric for now, his policies are still ripped right from Trump’s divisive handbook.