Just when Michigan workers were starting to stand on their own two feet, their knees are being knocked out from underneath them once again. This time, it’s by the federal government, which recently cut its funding to the No Worker Left Behind program. Amid all the talk of wasteful or unnecessary spending by governments on all levels, it’s both surprising and abhorrent to see the scalpel fall on a program with such a remarkable record of success. Not only should federal funding be restored, the project — and others like it — should be expanded across the country.

No Worker Left Behind is a government-funded initiative to retrain Michigan workers for in-demand jobs in high-growth industries. To date, the program has trained and/or retrained 131,833 people for new careers. But on July 1, the program will be forced to restrict its enrollment due to lack of funding from the federal government. The majority of the program’s remaining money will go toward ensuring that all workers already enrolled are able to finish their training.

Diversifying Michigan’s economy is absolutely essential to the state’s recovery. Ensuring that the entire state isn’t dependent on one sector, as it has been on the auto industry, is a prerequisite to long-term economic sustainability. By funding training for a vast array of workers, the program made sure there was a skilled, diverse Michigan labor force ready to be hired by in-state companies in all fields. Without NWLB, many workers will remain trained solely for jobs that simply aren’t coming back.

Of the 57,855 workers who have completed training, over 75 percent have retained old jobs or found new ones, according to the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth. This program, by all accounts, has had a significant positive impact on Michigan workers and employers at a time when the unemployment rate sits at 13.7 percent as of April 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Several news outlets, including The New York Times, have highlighted an even more troubling problem: Companies are looking for workers to hire, but they can’t find enough with the skills and training they are looking for. Such findings demonstrate the clear and irrefutable need for continued funding and support of NWLB.

This success indicates that the federal government — which has no balanced budget requirement — should be expanding the program, not undermining it. By funding training for struggling workers, NWLB sets up a pipeline for companies in high-growth industries to hire in-state workers, making it easier for employers and employees to match up quickly. This is a program that any economy could use in both good times and bad, as it cuts down on the frictional unemployment that results from the inherently time-consuming nature of a job search. The federal government should spearhead a national initiative to set up similar programs across the country.

No Worker Left Behind has been one of the rare gems in Michigan’s economic policy over the past several years. But with the deterioration of state tax revenues over the course of the prolonged downturn, federal funding is increasingly needed to keep the program going. Unfortunately for Michigan’s suffering workers, the message from Washington has been, “Tough luck.”

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