GOP lawmaker blames workers, students and public assistance for state “jobs crisis”Republican Rep. Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum recently penned an op-ed wherein he described a jobs crisis in the state of Wisconsin.
But Kremer wasn’t talking about the failure of the Scott Walker administration to reach its promise of 250,000 jobs in his first term. He didn’t lay any blame on the governor for failing to reach that pledge at all.
You read that right: Kremer blames unskilled workers, college kids, and struggling Wisconsin families for the jobs crisis.
The ”Skills Gap” Myth
Let’s take a look at each issue, starting with Kremer’s claims about the untrained workers. Kremer cites a Manpower report from 2012 that states, “Wisconsin will have fewer than half the metal manufacturing professionals that it needs by 2021.”
But the problem isn’t all on the workers. Employers across the state simply aren’t that interested in investing in training or otherwise providing capital for training would-be employees.
“There are still plenty of employers who think they can find the workers they need by sitting back and waiting for the ideal candidate to show up,” wrote Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still in 2014. “That doesn’t always happen in a state where average wages are still well below national and regional averages.”
He added: “Proactive companies usually engage schools and invest in programs that can keep their pipelines filled with skilled workers.”
Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest that the so-called “skills gap” isn’t as big a problem as some like Rep. Kremer make it out to be. A study by UW-Milwaukee professor Marc Levine in 2014 demonstrated that there wasn’t a skills gap at all, evidenced by several factors including no increases in overtime for current “skilled” workers and forecasts that show more unskilled workers will be desired in the future job market.
There's a strong ideological component behind the skills gap trope: it diverts attention (and policies) from the deep inequalities and market fundamentalism that created the unemployment crisis, and focuses on a fake skills gap that had nothing to do with the surge in unemployment since 2007.Those dang college kids!
In addition to the nonexistent skills gap, Kremer also places blame on college kids expecting too much upon graduation.
It has also become apparent that many recent college graduates feel their degree entitles them to cushy, white collar jobs with $50,000+ salaries. This is not the real world! In fact, many graduates will often have to begin at the ground floor until they learn the ropes and garner experience.Blaming the “entitled kids” is easy enough. Backing the claim up that these kids contribute to the jobs crisis Kremer describes is much harder. There’s no evidence that suggests college graduates seeking higher paid jobs are to blame for sluggish job growth in the state, and Kremer provides nothing concrete (besides his baseless rantings) to support his claim.
In fact, these students oftentimes take lower paying jobs in the service industries. They’re not “above” going below their education levels to get paid -- evidenced by the fact that more than 20 percent of bartenders in the city of Milwaukee alone are college-educated.
It’s not as if college graduation rates would affect the job market all that terribly anyway. The UW System produces about 27,000 graduates with four-year degrees annually -- or roughly 0.85 percent of the current labor force (PDF) (assuming every single graduate decides to pursue employment immediately after leaving school).
And graduation numbers haven’t changed much since the start of the recession either. In 2008 there were 24,077 graduates who left the UW System with a four-year degree. That number has only gone up by less than 3,400 over the past seven years, when 27,427 students graduated with four-year degrees in 2015, less than two percent growth annually per year on average.
Kremer doesn’t explain why “lofty” ambitions by college students hurt the job market. It’s odd that he should include it in his rant and give no specific reason as to why. But it’s clearly not affecting the market as much as he concludes it does.
Public benefits don’t create lazy workers
Finally, Rep. Kremer goes on to lament about those lazy government moochers, the Wisconsinites who are currently the recipients of public benefits:
Some local employers have told me of potential prospects who turned down an offer because additional, non-cash earnings would cut into their benefits. As a state, we must continue to have serious discussions and encourage ideas to reform these social engineering experiments.Kremer doesn’t go into detail about the anecdotal evidence he provides. It’s also worth noting that this is secondary conjectural evidence -- it’s an anecdote that Kremer has received, and passes along to you, the reader, without scrutiny given to it at any step in the process. Like the childhood game of Telephone, there’s scant evidence that what Kremer is telling us is actually legitimate.
Nevertheless, it’s worth looking into. Are individuals who are on public assistance -- “social engineering experiments,” as Kremer calls them -- purposely avoiding employment opportunities to remain on the public dole?
The idea that welfare can somehow “corrupt the poor” has been looked at before. Yet while it’s a belief that many people have, it’s a claim that isn’t backed by much hard evidence. It does happen, but not to the extent that some have suggested.
Indeed, skepticism of this problem in Wisconsin is definitely warranted, especially in light of new evidence that efforts to trim down public assistance have failed in the state. Jake, of Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse, provides the best response to Kremer’s assertions that I’ve read so far:
As for the dog-whistle complaint of state benefits “stifling the will to work,”? Funny how Kremer releases this on the same day that the Wisconsin State Journal noted that a state report said nearly 2/3 of certain Food Share recipients could not find work through a state job training program in the last year, and over 41,000 ended up losing their food assistance. Even a rare “success story”, as quoted in this Wisconsin Public Radio news article, had to earn his position by working for free. That is not a luxury most adults can afford.Jake’s skepticism is deserved -- welfare simply doesn’t make lazy workers, as Rep. Kremer presumes it does. Several studies from around the world discredit this notion:
As safety nets have increased, so has the debate about whether they simply discourage work, enabling a “lazy poor.” Aggregating evidence from randomized evaluations of seven cash transfer programs, we find no effects of transfers on work behavior, either for men or women.Emphasis in bold added.
“Properly designed and implemented welfare programs do not reduce the desire for people to work,” points out David Pakman in the video below.
Here’s the bottom line: Rep. Jesse Kremer is trying to cast blame on the people of Wisconsin, not his party’s policies, when it comes to the state’s jobs problems. To be fair, it’s important to point out that the Republican Kremer is at least acknowledging that Wisconsin has a jobs crisis.
But by blaming a fraudulent “skills gap,” supposedly whiny and demanding college graduates, and public benefits that purportedly create lazy moochers, Kremer is placing blame where it doesn’t belong -- on the people looking for work themselves. His descriptions are merely works of Republican fiction. It isn’t the fault of Wisconsinites that the state is lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to jobs. Rather, it’s Gov. Scott Walker’s insistence that “trickle-down” economics, a failure of an idea that has never worked, could somehow put Wisconsin ahead. It can’t, and it never will; and it’s a policy that should be abandoned.
Rep. Jesse Kremer needs to look toward his own party for answers on why Wisconsin is failing on jobs. The Republicans have presided over a slower economic recovery in this state, and if blame belongs anywhere it is with them.