Funding the Future: The pandemic has created opportunities for states to level the playing field for marginalized workers.

AuthorJohnson, Sharon

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation's workforce represents something new and troubling, says Suzanne Hultin of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"Unlike previous recessions where job losses were concentrated among white men in manufacturing and construction," Hultin says in an interview, "the COVID-19 recession has affected women, people of color, and young people who were employed in a variety of industries that had escaped job loss in the past."

Hultin is the program director of the employment, labor, and retirement program of the Denver-based group. She has seen how the pandemic has created new pressures and opportunities at the state level, which many state and local officials are seeking to address.

"The COVID-19 recession has had a profound impact on the states," she says, citing its sudden impact and the wide-ranging effects it has had on tax revenues, which affect the states' ability to meet the increased need for public services, such as health care and education.

At the end of April, nearly ten million U.S. workers were still unemployed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. And forty-eight states had fewer payroll jobs than they did in February 2020, when the pandemic began, noted the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire in a recent report.

As a result of these historic job losses, Hultin says, states are examining every aspect of their economies. They want to better prepare workers for high-growth fields, which will enable them to compete in the global marketplace. States are also investing in workplace training that will jumpstart employment in traditional sectors like manufacturing and food production.

Lawmakers in many states have introduced bills to enable people of color and others who have historically been underrepresented in job training to qualify for positions in expanding sectors of their economies.

A bill proposed in New Jersey would give ethnic minorities, women, and veterans priority in accessing a new training program for long-term care workers. The state is also considering legislation to require that subcontractors working on public improvement contracts make "good-faith efforts" to encourage minorities, women, and service-disabled veterans to become apprentices.

And Maryland's proposed Coal Community Transition Act would support the state's transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy. Half of the fund would be allocated to worker-training programs, including a variety of apprenticeships at historically Black colleges and universities.

IN CALIFORNIA, state Senator Melissa Hurtado has introduced legislation that would boost job creation on two fronts: making low-wage areas more attractive to high-growth industries, and...

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