The White House has started a new campaign urging Americans who have bad jobs or no jobs to “Find Something New.” Ivanka Trump, who has spearheaded this initiative, explains, “There has never been a more critical time for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to be aware of the multiple pathways to career success and gain the vocational training and skills they need to fill jobs in a changing economy.”
Ivanka’s personal pathway to success began with being the child of a crooked real-estate millionaire and going to work in the family business. This was also the pathway to success used by both her father and her husband. Of course, this background does not preclude her from having useful ideas for skills enhancement, but it does stand as a rebuke to the connection between career success and attaining credentials.
In its defense, the White House initiative was conceived at a time of low unemployment as a way of informing people about ways to develop new credentials and open new career pathways, which is all to the good. It just happened to roll out during a massive economic crisis, during which the administration has struggled to develop any consistent economic response.
And so, while Larry Kudlow and Steve Mnuchin go back and forth in public over what kind of economic stimulus (if any) is needed, Ivanka’s chipper initiative stands as an ersatz relief plan. Can’t pay your mortgage? Don’t fear. The administration wants you to follow the example of a fellow American who “ found a medical course online” and became a phlebotomist. “You will find something,” she says.
Statistically speaking, in fact, you probably will not find something. The labor market is suffering two simultaneous crises: a pandemic that directly prevents a lot of economic activity from taking place and a broader failure of demand rippling through the rest of the economy. The more than 10 percent of working-age adults unable to find regular work are jobless not because they lack the skills for the needed jobs but because there is not enough demand for labor.
It is true that, under conditions of low unemployment, it is economically useful to ensure that the skills of the workforce keep up with changing needs in the economy. Notably, however, this isn’t the way Donald Trump thinks about it, at least not when the workers in question are his own supporters. If the coal industry is shedding jobs because other energy sources are cheaper, Trump wants to prop up coal jobs anyway. His administration has tripled spending on farm subsidies. If you work in a Trump-approved career, he does not want you to ever have to update your training. Learning how to become a phlebotomist is for people who don’t work in select declining white male-dominated blue-collar industries.
Most unemployed workers will need an aggregate-demand boost, not industry-targeted relief. To get that, they’re probably going to have to look for “something new” on November 3.