“I don’t want the next big job-creating discovery and research and technology to be in Germany or China or Japan. I want it to be right here in the United States of America. I want it to be right here in North Carolina.” This statement was made by President Barack Obama during a speech at North Carolina State on January 15, 2014, half a month before the State of the Union address. He was introducing the creation of a high-tech manufacturing hub led by the public university that will be fed $70 million from the U.S. Department of Energy along with at least $10 million from the state of North Carolina. It is the second to be created in Raleigh, North Carolina, and consists of six universities and eighteen private sector companies in a new manufacturing innovation institute. The aim of this private-public partnership is to train skilled workers, lower the unemployment rate, and place the United States at the frontier of cutting-edge technology.
North Carolina has been hit hard by unemployment, and the state became ineligible for Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) at the end of June 2013. The website for the Division of Employment Security for the North Carolina Department of Commerce suggests that the unemployed, now without this government aid, take advantage of “local workforce offices […] to provide individuals with the services and information they need to get back to work or gain access to the training they need.” The website also offers a list of services, including resume writing assistance, career guidance, and help searching for jobs. This abrupt halt to financial support for individuals seeking employment has contributed to a drop in the total number of working-age residents either working or looking for jobs by 95,000 in the past year. However, the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.4 percent in December 2012 to 6.9 percent in December 2013—the lowest it has been in more than five years. These numbers look good, but are deceiving, and can be linked to a variety of causes: an upturn in the economic crisis, success in job training, and the dramatic numbers of North Carolinians dropping out of the workforce. But these employment gains cannot be credited entirely to an increased focus on job training and lack of financial assistance.
President Obama and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s focus on job training is misguided if it is not coupled with an extension of benefits for people who have been unemployed for months. The high-tech manufacturing institute and other job training initiatives will boost the local economy and make America more competitive globally. It is essential to replace jobs that have been lost in the North Carolina paper mills and auto factories by offering training and new opportunities. Six more similar manufacturing hubs are expected to be created in 2014 across the United States. But what happens to those left behind, unable to train for new jobs?
In order to be competitive with Germany, China, and Japan, the United States needs to restore unemployment benefits and not lose a significant portion of the American workforce. President Obama called upon Congress during the State of the Union address to renew Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which left 1.6 million people without financial assistance across the United States As he said during the address, “Give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance. They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game.”