I heard a preacher on television the other day say that he was frustrated and angered by the fact that we have 12 million unemployed--and that this was not only uneconomic but immoral. I agree, and there are very definite measures that can be taken and should be taken now, so that education and training may supplant idleness.
Unemployment compensation is the first consideration. Today it covers less than half of the number of unemployed. The remainder have used up their unemployment benefits or are not eligible for unemployment compensation. In the decade of the '70s, I handled the unemployment compensation bills on the floor of the U.S. Senate as a senator from New York and the ranking Republican member of the Senate Labor Committee.
It was a fundamental tenet of the legislation at that time that we should keep people off the welfare rolls as a matter of morale and dignity for the individual. This is the way it should continue to be, and the 65-week limit which we then established should continue today. This would require an extension of the federal aspect of unemployment compensation accordingly.
But the problem of idleness is the other side of this coin. For I remember the deep poignancy and the regret I felt in handling these unemployment compensation bills (which generally had a price tag of $20 billion per annum) and realized that they were going to pay for idleness while seeking "suitable employment" that was not there to be found, rather than to consolidate and upgrade the education and skills of the unemployed worker who was unemployed because of economic conditions and through no fault of his own.
It is hard to realize in the United States of 1983 that 20 percent of Americans are unable to read, write or calculate at a high enough level to get and hold a job in the contemporary market and are, in effect, functionally illiterate.
It is hard to realize that some 50 million American adults have not had an education beyond the primary school level and have neither a high school diploma nor the equivalent of three years of high school education.
Similarly, it is hard to realize the extent of worker displacement in autos and steel, where the United States has fallen behind in the world competition. Hundreds of thousands of workers who may never be employed again in these critical smokestack industries must be retrained or have their skills upgraded. It is estimated that even when economic recovery comes on stream, at least 8 million people will remain out of work later in this decade of the '80s, half of whom could find work with modernized skills.
I believe, therefore, that a top priority effort for the unemployed at the government level should be an amendment to the Unemployment Compensation Law requiring the worker not only to seek "suitable employment" but also to seek "suitable upgrading of education and of skills." In order to enable such a requirement to be practical, it will be essential to see that facilities for adult education and training are available. The administration believes this can come from the private enterprise system alone, but I believe that to be effective, a joint effort with government is vital.
From the private sector, the pattern is already established through the Private Industry Councils (PICs) established in 1978 and through the implementation of the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982. But in the governmental sector, much remains to be done. One of the most promising avenues is the linkage between private business at the local level and the public and secondary school systems (including the proper participation of private and religious schools on a sectarian basis).
Here there is an available pattern that needs to be appropriately used. The pattern is found in the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of the '70s (CETA) which included the Javits-Humphrey 22 percent education-work set-aside. This feature, which was repealed in the block grant of the Job Training Partnership Act, provided funds to be used to support joint private industry-school agency education training programs. These programs could fund, for example, cooperation in plants and offices to provide practical experience in both education and skill upgrading. With rare exceptions, the schools of today do not invite the active participation of local businesses, but the collaboration of private business with education would represent a tremendous opportunity for both.
Indeed, this has been tried very successfully in some parts of the country. A notable example is in the District of Columbia public school system where Superintendent Floretta McKenzie has sought and obtained the participation of business firms in the establishment of innovative programs. She has recognized that employers are a vital part of the local community responsible for education. Her example could be a model for the whole country, and the federal government should act to encourage it. And let us remember that we are not talking about additional money. The necessary money could be set aside from funds appropriated for implementation of the role of Private Industry Councils under the Job Training Partnership Act.
Recent legislative proposals to permit a portion of unemployment compensation proceeds to be used for a job training voucher should be extended to include education.
Finally, I believe a component of public service jobs is also a necessary aspect of governmental action to meet the critical unemployment problem. The pattern of the Emergency Employment Act of 1971 and of the Public Service Employment Program of the late '70s under which we provided funds for 725,000 jobs in 1977 commend themselves strongly as an element of meeting the present crisis. Public service employment gives at least an opportunity for on-the-job training for unemployed people who have already undertaken some training. It is also a program which it is estimated could employ thousands within 30 days, the machinery having been so well established during the '70s. It is a fact, too, that the compensation involved is roughly equivalent to unemployment compensation and makes the financial aspect self- cancelling.
Congress should have a jobs bill that deals intelligently with these aspects of the tragedy of unemployment. It is a time for courage and resolution in Congress, and I believe from my own years of experience in the House and Senate that these qualities are there to be called upon.