New strategy would help jobless move

November 30, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is planning a shift in approach on jobless benefits that would help the long-term unemployed move from economically depressed regions to locales where job prospects are better.

Labor Secretary Robert Reich said yesterday that the recent congressional battle over extending unemployment benefits to people whose regular benefits have lapsed demonstrated that there is little money or political support for additional aid -- much of which goes to people who continue looking for work in their region while waiting for the economy to improve.

"The cupboard is practically bare," Mr. Reich said in a meeting with a small group of reporters.

Instead, administration officials are working on legislation seeking to provide better information to unemployed people across the country about job prospects and training opportunities in other regions.

Legislation the administration intends to introduce next year would coordinate various federal and state job-training opportunities so that structurally unemployed individuals are aware of a wider range of options. It would also set up an improved information network, so that people who have lost their jobs can determine if their skills are in demand elsewhere in the country.

The movement of workers out of depressed areas is hardly a rare occurrence in American history, but it has traditionally been viewed as a politically sensitive topic and politicians have avoided candid discussions about it. They have been inclined, instead, to stress that things will get better if only their constituencies have patience.

But with the huge changes going on in the structure of the work force, such optimism may be misplaced.

State and federal officials are struggling to deal with a new reality where a big percentage of those who lose their jobs will not be rehired by their companies or in their fields.

President Bush approved three extensions of the benefit for long-term unemployed and President Clinton has approved two, but getting the last one through Congress was very difficult. The latest extension, a $1 billion measure approved just before Congress recessed for the year, was deadlocked in the Senate over demands for new cost-savings from reduced federal employment, but was ultimately passed.

The chances of pushing another extension through, however, are "doubtful," Mr. Reich said.

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