Ask Us Anything: Lessons from the Great Recession

Jane Oates, president of the nonprofit WorkingNation and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, and Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, discuss the current workforce landscape and how lessons learned from the Great Recession can inform effective pandemic responses.

Event Q & A


This Q&A digest has been derived from the Ask Us Anything session on “Lessons from the Great Recession” held June 17, 2020, with Jane Oates of WorkingNation and Carl Van Horn of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. In addition to providing the responses included in this digest, Oates and Van Horn have published an article for our Leading Workforce Resurgence series.

The Atlanta Fed’s Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity offers a number of data tools and publications to help you track unemployment, reemployment, and other potential policy and practice suggestions while you manage recovery from the pandemic:

Unemployment Claims Monitor provides data on initial and continued claims for unemployment insurance as well as claimants' demographic data.

Workforce Currents includes articles on various workforce topics addressing research, policy, and practice.

Opportunity Occupations Monitor tracks trends in jobs that offer salaries of at least the U.S. annual median wage (adjusted for local cost of living differences) for which employers do not require a bachelor's degree—opportunity occupations—in states and metro areas.

Labor Report First Look provides a concise view of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Situation Summary. It offers a quick look at current and historical data along with data constructed from the summary.

Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity Events is a calendar of upcoming events and registration links for the next Ask Us Anything webinar sessions.

Q&A Digest

Equity in recovery

An equitable recovery should be a priority as the country reopens following COVID-19 lockdowns. How can the workforce system promote an equitable recovery?

The workforce system generally focuses on reemploying people within the sector they left—that is, the system focuses on the occupation rather than the skill. For instance, if a person loses a job at a restaurant, the workforce system finds this person a new position at a different restaurant. This strategy often prevents workers from gaining an increase in pay or skills, which doesn’t lead to equitable solutions because it reinforces systematic equity challenges. Workforce development teams should determine job seekers’ skills and work interests to help them find careers that pay a higher salary.

Offering job seekers digital literacy helps level the playing field and opens opportunities in the digital world. Cybersecurity and data analytics are two fields that could be cultivated at the technical college level. Barriers to entry to digital jobs need to be addressed to promote an inclusive economy. During this crisis, the importance of high-speed broadband access has been amplified. Without addressing the availability of high-speed broadband and access to technology, particularly in the home, it will be hard to create a market for consistent growth.

What are some strategies used during the Great Recession that were successful in advancing equity by providing job training and additional support?

Focusing on job quality is integral to a successful recovery. During the Great Recession, the workforce system helped job seekers find and start jobs as quickly as possible so they could pay their bills and take care of their families. Programs such as the U.S. Labor Department’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) can serve as models for other workforce programs. TAA provided classroom and on-the-job training programs that enabled the system to work with job seekers even after they had secured a position. The program also helped workers pay for new supplies and provided up to 18 months of additional support that included housing assistance and other services.

Another policy used during the Great Recession helped expand access to college. Although the policy was successful in increasing enrollments across the board, many students still were not able to complete their degree. These students, who are now in the workforce, earned no college credential but are likely to have student debt. Providing the support students need to complete their education should be an added priority as we enter the COVID-19 economic recovery.

How can workforce boards balance engaging young workers while also helping older workers return to work?

Some older workers (55 and over) may be able to retire early if they have defined-benefit plans, which have been traditionally offered in education and government services jobs. Such an option might help this population maintain a living wage. However, if it’s not an option, we suggest looking at transferable skills as a starting point to determine how these workers can quickly transition to new areas of employment.

Younger workers, even high school students, are most at risk for long-term employment impacts because of COVID-19. Many young people use summer jobs not only to put money in their pocket but also to learn new skills and help build a résumé so they can land better jobs in the future. Colleges should focus on work-based learning and promote paid internships that help students both to earn college or training course credits and rebound from the loss of summer jobs.

It should not go unmentioned that some employers have been able to transition internships to an online or remote program as a way to build skills and engage our younger workforce.

How can workforce boards support women who are disproportionately leaving their jobs to take care of their children as a result of COVID?

Childcare is consistently a topic of conversation in workforce development. Addressing this issue involves a two-generation solution, ideally helping the parents go to work and allowing the children to focus on learning in a structured environment, an important step in early childhood development. Dollars and Sense: Affordability of Childcare is an Atlanta Fed report that provides an in-depth look at this subject that disproportionately affects women’s careers.

Progress in workforce development
Is the transition to remote work as a result of COVID-19 a permanent change? How can workforce policies and practices apply virtually and still be effective?

While the full extension of remote work will likely fade, the labor and job market could change drastically as a result of COVID-19. Workforce boards should expect a shift to more remote and online training as the recovery continues. However, having the technological infrastructure, particularly access to broadband, is a big step in promoting an inclusive economy.

Beyond online training offerings, we are interested in gathering insights on effective virtual service delivery models and will host a future Ask Us Anything webinar on this very topic. That session will address digital proficiency training to participants, new ways of promoting available services virtually, platforms that have been effectively used at the American Job Centers, and more. If there are good examples under way in your communities, please contact Sarah Miller or Stuart Andreason.

What can workforce development professionals do to create pathways to career opportunities that may not yet exist?

Since the Great Recession, half of the jobs that were created have new occupational titles. Workforce systems recognize that while making people more effective at their jobs is beneficial, helping workers learn new skills in career paths that will be more stable could improve economic resilience for their families in the longer term.

Many training programs have become outdated. Workforce development boards need to regularly assess training programs to ensure they are still relevant to workplace needs. Using labor market data to identify jobs that are growing in demand is a good way to start these assessments. The CWEO’s Opportunity Occupations Monitor can provide this information at the state and metro level.

What is the role of technology in facilitating and creating jobs beyond so-called lifeboat jobs?

The term “lifeboat job” refers to positions that are immediately available and require little to no retraining. The term was coined by Matt Sigelman of Burning Glass Technologies, an analytics software company, in the report Filling the Lifeboats: Getting America Back to Work after the Pandemic. The report explains that these jobs can “serve as ‘lifeboats’ for those out of work” and help unemployed people gain skills that could lead to higher-paying positions in the future. Examples of some of these jobs are shipping clerks and personal care aides.

In 2008-2009, the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) began building digital tools to help clients identify viable career pathways. Some of these tools include the websites My Next Move and My Skills, My Future. Many other tools have been developed, and workforce development systems should integrate them.

What are the roles of nondegree certificates, apprenticeships, technical education, and traditional higher education in preparing job seekers for long-term careers?

Education is important, but a lesson from the Great Recession is that an educational program must be of high quality. Information on career benefits of an educational program should be available. The outcomes need to be transparent and should consider the costs of education (explicit costs such as fees as well as implicit costs such as sacrificed time and earnings) and the potential financial gain for job seekers based on those costs. Federal and state funding should also be tied to the effectiveness of different programs.

How can workforce systems foster the desire for continual learning and growth in individuals?

The ability to pay for housing, food, and other bills drives many career decisions, particularly for low- to moderate-income workers. As a workforce system, we need to recognize the importance of the leap from minimum-wage employment to a career pathway that provides higher wages that can sustain families. Providing human-centered support through the workforce system, both for their mental health and to defray financial burden through safety net support, throughout the job-seeking and skill development process will encourage workers to stick with their efforts to gain economic stability.

Related policy objectives
What changes could COVID-19 and the CARES Act bring to the unemployment insurance system?

Technology has brought opportunities and complications to the labor market. Many policies have not been updated since they began in 1932. Additionally, the computer systems that process unemployment benefits in many states use old programming languages. Many problems could be solved by making some policies implemented during the COVID-19 crisis permanent, including providing unemployment insurance eligibility to nontraditional workers and gig workers.

We should rely on research from the current moment to create more equitable short-term emergency policies which then become more permanent.

How does access to high-speed broadband impact a community’s economic mobility and growth?

The COVID-19 crisis has illustrated the importance of high-speed broadband. The Ask Us Anything webinar series is made possible through high-speed, reliable internet. Workers with the most job security at the moment are those who are able to work from home. A community that does not have access to high-speed internet will offer fewer jobs with the capability to work remotely, a situation that could affect job security and wages for its workers.

The technology infrastructure of the unemployment insurance system needs to be updated. The dramatic increase in unemployment applications in March and April crashed old computer systems that could not handle the load. The technological challenges frustrated state workers trying to process applications and those seeking unemployment benefits. Updating these systems would also reduce the amount of fraud we have seen during the COVID-19 crisis. Though upgrades are expensive, we don’t want to look back at this moment when the next crisis hits and regret not updating these systems.

How might universal basic income or income support affect labor policies in the future?

Congressional passage of income support (the $1,200 relief checks) this year was a big help to workers. Income support could become a more common labor policy option in the future. However, recipients of income support need to understand whether such aid could affect future eligibility for any existing benefits they receive. Many times, families and workers are not aware of the impact a new job could have on their benefits, or they are aware and decide not to pursue higher-paying employment because the increase would result in a larger loss in social service benefits. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is doing work to address this “benefits cliff” through its Advancing Careers program.

What impact do you expect COVID-19 to have on labor force participation?

The labor force participation rate is important to watch, and it can signal that some people have given up on finding a new job. Looking at continued claims for unemployment insurance is helpful and provides real-time information.

Currently, roughly 75 percent of workers idled in wake of the pandemic think they will return to their old job. All of those workers may not be called back. As time passes, employers become wary of workers who have been unemployed for an extended period, making jobs harder to secure for this group. As we transition to a new economy, we should focus on making sure people have opportunities to pursue different jobs that offer the promise of lasting longer. If that does not happen, there will likely be a decline in the labor force participation rate.

Event Transcript

Stuart Andreason: All right, well, let's go ahead and get started. I just want to say thank you to everyone for coming today to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity’s Ask Us Anything series.

Today we're going to be broadly talking about some lessons from the Great Recession. If there are things that we can learn and take forward in our response to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic economic crisis. We're really lucky today to have a couple of people who have been longtime friends of the center that can provide some perspective on that.

I'll say just broadly, for those of you all that are new and learning about the center, our goals are really to help connect research from across the Federal Reserve System with practice and policy makers. We really focus on thinking about how employment and training help advance and make the labor market work and help connect people to opportunities. We're particularly interested in helping to create economic mobility and resilience for low-income workers and moderate-income workers. We want to find ways to help highlight and elevate approaches that help to do that, and take that work back to the ways that we also think about the work that the Federal Reserve does.

Now, today's an exciting day because we've had a few of these Ask Us Anything series, but today is the first one where we're actually going to be talking about and talking with a couple of authors from a new series that we have in our Workforce Currents publication, in a series called Leading Workforce Resurgence.

We've gone across the country and to people that we know that have been doing really important work in helping to respond and recover from the economic crisis due to the pandemic. We're collecting that information, and we hope it can be a collective resource to people as they think about responses to COVID. We're lucky in that we're getting to partner with WorkingNation. Jane Oates is with us today from Working Nation, and with the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, and particularly we've got Carl Van Horn with us today.

Carl's been a longtime visiting scholar at the Atlanta Fed and has helped us really stand up and think about how we do work in workforce development and connected to the Fed’s efforts. Over the next couple of months, you'll hear from practitioners, from researchers, from policymakers across the country, who have been thinking about how workforce development, education, training and employment supports help people navigate the challenging economic environment that they are in today.

Now, I'm going to turn it over to Sarah just to talk a little bit about the whole Ask Us Anything series and give a little bit of a guide for today.

Sarah Miller: Thanks, Stu, and welcome everyone. Thanks so much for joining us. We're so excited both for the Leading Workforce Resurgence series. I believe we just put a link to the paper that Jane and Carl did in the chat. Please, do download that when we send the information around on this, you'll get a link to that as well.

And just a reminder for how we're setting up this conversational series. We will have calendar topics coming out. We have a couple of new ones on the horizon that we'll share with you, but we aim to every three to four weeks, we'll have a new topic that now can align with the Workforce Resurgence series. We want this to be conversational. Please do consider this a two-way road in terms of thoughts that you want to share, insights that you want to share with us, and of course questions that we can help to answer. But we really want this to be a stand in for what would otherwise be an in-person community of practice.

We want to be able to elevate your ideas, your insights, as well as share some of our own with the group around this virtual table. We may not have all the answers to your questions, but we want to address everything that we get through here today. Please do share all of your comments, insights, questions. Use the Q&A button at the bottom of your screen to send that through for us. But rest assured, a full recording of this presentation along with the slide deck and a complete read-out or digest of the Q&A will be provided to you all within a few business days after this conversation.

If we're not able to get to your question today, we will address it after the fact. Save the date. We have two new sessions on the horizon, which we're very excited about. These are both Wednesdays of their respective weeks. Wednesday, July 8, at 2 p.m., we're going to be talking about the importance of job quality and recovery. We're excited to have both the Good Jobs Institute and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions join us on that conversation. Then in August, we'll be focusing on racial equity and the future of workforce development and how we can drive towards a truly inclusive economy and recovery.

You can register now for these sessions, and for all future sessions, just keep an eye on the Events page that we have for the center. The link is included here and will be provided after the fact as well. But without any further ado, we wanted to get a little bit of insight from you to help to drive the conversation today.

With the wealth of knowledge between both Carl and Jane, it's helpful for us to get a little bit of a sense of who's on the call with us today. I'm going to launch a quick poll here. If you wouldn't mind taking just a second and letting us know where you're joining us from today. We know that we have a lot of folks that have registered from all over the country. Just to get a good swath is wonderful for us. But to know who's on the call with us today would be very helpful. I'm going to let this stay open for just another moment, and I'm going to go ahead and end the poll and share these results here.

Good representation, the West and the Northwest. We try to keep these later in the afternoon to accommodate your schedules. But we appreciate you joining us here today. A lot from the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, all very well represented. Thank you so much for indulging us with that. Then just one other quick question here. We want to get a good sense of what your position is that you're coming from, what perspective you're bringing to the conversation today. If you wouldn't mind just letting us know quickly, what type of organization you're representing. This certainly helps us as well to understand from policy recommendations perspectives, for some other true practical guidance that we can provide, what focus that you're bringing to the call.

I'm going to leave this open for just another moment and end the poll here and share the results. Lots of state government, educational institutions, business and industry and a lot of nonprofits. I'm very excited to see some economic development organizations on the call with us today. Thank you so much for joining us, that's very helpful, certainly to shape the discussion that we'll have with you all here this afternoon. But without further ado, let me turn this back over to Stu to properly introduce our esteemed guests today and longtime partners of the Fed, Jane and Carl. Stu?

Andreason: Well, I'll keep these introductions relatively short and actually say that these are two people that I feel like I get to learn from a lot, and that's the most important introduction that I can give. They've been people that are generous with advice and guidance on what's happening in the world and how we can think about and really structure programs that help people get back to work and move up and be economically mobile. Their wealth of knowledge is going to be incredibly important over the next years as we respond to everything that's happened.

But I'll just say that we're joined today by Jane Oates, who's the president of WorkingNation, and former assistant secretary of the Department of Labor for the Employment and Training Administration.

WorkingNation is a nonprofit that helps people understand the future of work and responses that create economic mobility. Carl Van Horn is the founding director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. He's a visiting scholar at the Atlanta Fed and has really coached us and been a mentor for us for the time that I've been at the Fed in building our workforce development programming.

I'm going to turn it over to them. They teamed up and took a look back at the responses that both the federal government, the Federal Reserve, and state and local governments had to the Great Recession, our most recent version of economic crisis. Looked at how it was relevant to today's situation. What worked well, where there were some opportunities for improvement, and what things were just not the same. Some things are very similar and some were not.

They're going to talk a lot about that. They've written a paper, for those of you all that can see the link in the chat, there's a longer discussion there, but we're going to turn it over to Jane and Carl who are going to talk about that. They'll talk for a few minutes and as you have questions or ideas that come up, please put them in the Q&A. We have a lot of time reserved for discussion with them and you all. I will just say that it is something where we do want to have questions. Jane and Carl, to you all. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Carl Van Horn: Well, thanks. Thanks Stu, and welcome, everyone. Thanks for joining. Jane and I flipped a coin and we decided I would start first. I want to thank Stuart and Sarah for setting us up and for this whole series. As was emphasized before, we do want to get to your questions, but we thought we'd make just a few opening remarks.

The idea behind this paper we wrote, and this conversation today, is what can we learn from our experiences during the Great Recession? Jane and I were in different spots then. She was leading the federal government’s Employment Training Administration response; I was chairing the Economic Development Authority in New Jersey. Both of us were working with then-Governor Jon Corzine.

Of course, we thought then, that this was the worst thing that had ever occurred in our lifetime. This was horrific. The unemployment rate was incredibly devastating. As we crawled our way out of that, which took many, many years—and of course not everyone recovered from that. I will speak for myself—I thought, I hope I never have to do that again. Well, here we are in a situation that is worse. It is by every measure worse.

Now, it is impossible for anyone to say what we're going to look like as an economy and a nation two years from now. But it's not too early to try to figure out what did we learn from the Great Recession response that will help us get back to a better economic and equitable position this time around? I think we did learn some lessons.

One of the things that we saw in the beginning of both of these experience was strong bipartisan support for a major federal government response. But in the case of the Great Recession, that fell apart within a couple of years, and Republicans and Democrats no longer agreed on the way forward. In this response, we've seen a significant bipartisan response from the federal government at the beginning. Now, we're in a pause and we don’t know what's going to happen. But clearly, again, speaking for myself, there's a lot more that needs to be done.

One of the things the article does really is summarize that very quickly about what has happened so far, and also what we think might happen next, or what should happen next if we're going to address what we call some of the unfinished business that really was never completed in the recovery from the last recession. In particular, many vulnerable populations—minorities, low income, low skilled workers—not only did they not recover, but they didn't advance in their careers.

This time around, obviously, we need to focus again, with all our efforts on making sure that we don't have a repeat of that story. We also need to make sure that we don't take our foot off the pedal, so to speak, too quickly and begin declaring victory. To some extent, that is what happened the last time around, and we need to make sure it doesn't happen this time. Because as I said, it is worse. On top of that, we have obviously a major health crisis coinciding with the economic crisis and causing the economic crisis.

Those are just a few opening remarks. I'll pass it to Jane for whatever she'd like to add to what I have to say. Jane?

Jane Oates: Well, first of all, Carl, I have to tell everybody that's with us today what a great partner you have been from the beginning to me, because when I first went to New Jersey under Governor Corzine to do higher education, you were one of my first visitors, and you've been family since then. This was great. Again, I echo your thanks to both Stuart and Sarah.

I would add there just to the Federal Reserve Bank in general, they have been so out front creating new tools for us to work with as we try to figure out what we're going to do to create a more inclusive, new normal. I would go back and say some of the tangible things that we learned at the federal level coming out of the Great Recession was how great the career staff were. Political people come and go, those career staff at ETA, world class. The only people who came close to them were the people who did the UI [unemployment insurance] work in the states.

My one ray of hope is a lot of those people both at the federal level and state level are still working and thank God for that, because they'll help us figure this out. If, and the big if is, if leadership listens to them. I think that's the one thing we need to make sure we're all doing our best to inform leaders in both parties, that the people who really know how to do this are the people doing it at the state and federal level, the career people.

What did they warn us about, and what did we come out with? Number one, we talked about partnerships. Everything that came out during the Great Recession, and for a long time after was about the critical importance of partnerships, public private partnerships, looking to business to help us figure out and really refine the demand signals because we didn't know then, and we all know we don't know now. Nobody can predict anything right now.

Those partnerships have never been more important. They should include business and education and nonprofits and government where possible. The second thing we learned was really to look forward, to not just go back to training people for where they were laid off, but training them for in-demand jobs in what was then the new economy.

That leads us right to where we are now. We know that coming out of '08 and '09, that in the 10 years that followed, over half, I think the percent—and you guys are better with numbers than I am—is about 52 percent or 53 percent of the new jobs that were created did not exist. Those titles didn't exist before the recession. I think we would all predict that we're going to see a lot of that coming out of this crisis. We're going to have new jobs being developed, not only jobs that are growing like contact tracers, but new titles that didn't exist before or we weren't aware of before.

I hope that we really follow that lead and not just train people on how to do what they already did better, but look at real, in-demand opportunities and train them moving forward. Lastly, I would say one of the things we didn't do enough of in coming out of the Great Recession because we were up to our ears in problems just like everybody is now—we didn't concentrate as much as we should have on job quality. We got people the first available job to get them back. I love a term that I heard Matt Sigelman use a few weeks ago called lifeboat jobs. We should really understand some people need to get back to work and they need to do anything that will help them pay the bills and respect that. But we should also work with those people to have a longer-term plan to get them off the lifeboat, learn the skills they acquired in those lifeboat jobs and take them and move them into a career path that's safer for them and their family in the future.

With that, do we have questions, Stuart? Or can Carl and I ask each other questions?

Miller: We have, we have plenty of questions.

Oates: OK.

Miller: Thanks so much for the frame. That was fantastic, and definitely underpins all of the guidance that's in the paper. We encourage folks to take a look at that. But in the paper, you do come to some policy recommendations—strengthening education and training programs, creating public service jobs, meeting mental health needs, expanding broadband access, and assisting older workers, the long-term unemployed as well as the recent high school and college graduates.

There's definitely some good guidance in there. The first question that we got was, what are the lessons learned about what we should not do? In particular, there were some strategies that came out of the Great Recession that reinforced income inequality and racial inequities that we should avoid. If you could offer any guidance on what we learned that did not produce the results that we had hoped to see at the Great Recession that we can keep top of mind moving into this recovery.

Van Horn: I'll just take a quick stab at that. It's also in Jane's area of expertise, and that is we have continued in this country to expand access to higher education, but not enough about completion of higher education. There are millions and millions of Americans who have some college but no credential. Those folks tend to be individuals who have other factors that interfere with their ability to finish. It's not because they don't have the ability, but as I like to say, life happens to them. They have a child or a sick relative they have to take care of, or they don't have a car so they can't get to campus, and they don't finish.

There were some initial efforts in the Obama administration to address this, and at the state level, but I don't think they've been significant enough. There's just one example where the inequality continues if you don't help those people get to the finish line of having a credential that is marketable and helps them have upward mobility.

Oates: I couldn't agree more, Carl. I think one of the things that if I had a magic wand and could go backward, I would have figured out a way to get Congress to let us treat every dislocated worker like we treated a Trade Adjustment Assistant worker. We could stay with them for 18 months, they could go in longer training; we paid for things like their equipment. When they got on a job, whether that was on a construction job, to get them the utility belt and the boots they needed, or whether it was a tech job, buying them a real computer that they could use at home.

I think that inability to stay with workers—the way that we have forced the workforce development system to place people quickly so that they can get credit for it in such a short amount of time—is a mistake, and we should really look at how we go back to enable them to stay with people as they transition to a new job, to give them the support, especially if it's a sector they don't have experience in, to give them somebody, that job coach, that navigator to come back to and say, "I don't quite know how to handle this. Could you help me?" I think that would make a huge difference in retention in the workforce. Of course, I ditto everything that Carl said about our ridiculous over attention on access without looking at retention and completion. I think anything we can do along those lines as we're coming out of this would be a great benefit for the rest of time.

Andreason: We've got a question now about unemployment insurance. Jane, you had a lot of experience with that system. This is really a question for both of you. That the CARES Act has fundamentally changed, at least temporarily, the way that the unemployment insurance and compensation system is running across the country and there are people that have access to unemployment compensation that never did before through the CARES Act—gig workers and workers that were part-time or didn't have enough tenure.

The question that we have is, is there any chance that the unemployment system will be overhauled to better reflect the 21st Century workplace, to incorporate gig workers and workers with nontraditional employment arrangements? If you think that there is a chance that that happens, what are some principles that policymakers should consider in a new system?

Oates: I think, Carl, I'll go first on this one. I think in the short term, the best we can hope for is the continuation after July 31 of those benefits for gig workers and the folks that are only covered on through the emergency provisions of the CARES Act. I hope when cooler heads prevail in a year when there's not a presidential election, in a bipartisan way, in a bicameral way, Congress can really look and see, as the economy has shifted, we need to make these changes to the unemployment insurance system [inaudible]. We need to have the help of lots of researchers telling us what were the lessons we learned during this time, this crisis time, and what are the things that should be incorporated into a permanent change.

Van Horn: Yeah, I agree. I think the only thing I'd add to that is that, this is one of those boring but extremely important topics, and that is we need to invest in the technology of our unemployment insurance systems around the country.

Oates: Amen.

Van Horn: Please be sympathetic with the folks that are manning the phones, or personing the phones, I should say, working their tails off to try to meet this unprecedented demand. In many states, the applications for insurance went up 1,000 percent within a week. This crashed many of these computer systems and crushed the frontline workers who were trying to do that remotely because they couldn't come into their offices to do the work.

By the way, this is not a problem we didn't know about. It never happens because it's expensive to do it. Then we have another crisis and we say, oops, we should have done it 10 years ago. That's one thing, and also give the support to those frontline workers to help them have the technology. By the way, it also will help us avoid, as Jane and I pointed out, the fraudulent activities now going on that have diverted billions of dollars into somebody's account in … an offshore fraud scheme, because the technology systems are unsecure.

That's one of the things. Obviously, in addition to addressing the types of varied work that people have today, it is not all, I work, I have a temporary layoff, and I come back. After all, this was designed in 1935, and we're in the 21st Century.

Oates: Before we were born.

Van Horn: Even before I was born. We have to address these, and I hope we will because that infrastructure is very important, in good times and bad because obviously people do lose their jobs all the time—not as many as now, but there are folks who need help.

Oates: Carl, that's such a good point, because anybody that's on the call here knows that people cross state lines to work. There's all kinds of people who are working remotely for an employer on the West Coast and they live on the East Coast. There's so many complications in these UI applications now. Most of them are programming with some iteration of COBOL [common business oriented language]. That's insane. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't know how to do it. I'm glad somebody does, but you think about that, it doesn't have the interoperability capabilities that more modern technology does, software packages. You are so right, we need to invest in that now so we don't wait for the next crisis to sit around and complain about it.

Miller: Great, thank you so much for those comments. Something that you brought up earlier in the conversation, Jane, the lifeboat skills. That concept in terms of thinking about how to get back into a job or to get onto a longer-term career pathway. There's a handful of questions about that which connects to the UI and getting them into jobs and looking at different kind of stepping stones. But if you could talk just a little bit about how you see these kind of lifeboat jobs, or these lifeboat credentials connecting to longer-term educational pathways? Do you feel that nondegree types of credentials, short-term certificates and certifications could be used as a bridge for folks to get initially into jobs and then connect them to the more viable credential pathways? Then associated with that, but also separate from it as it relates to lifeboats, just the role of technology in facilitating that. The breakdown in technology in the unemployment system, I think teed up a little bit of that and what role we see technology playing in advancing credentials, market signaling, lifeboat skill attainment.

Oates: Wow. I'll start, Carl, and you can think so you can have a smarter answer. Look, I think again, giving Matt Sigelman from Burning Glass the credit for thinking about this lifeboat analogy because I think it's a terrific one. Most of us have the privilege of being able to take time to study. We did in the past, and we do now if we have to. We have to remember that most people don't have that privilege. They have kids, they have bills, they have to get back to work. For many of them equally, work is such a part of who they are, that that dignity of work means they can't sit home and study online or they can't go to a campus, they want to go to work.

I respect that and whatever the reasons are. What's the quickest way we can get them back into a job, hence the lifeboat analogy. But where the technology really comes in, Sarah, is how do we better crosswalk both the skills that they had before they jumped on the lifeboat job, plus the skills that they're learning in that lifeboat job to really customize a path for them on what they need to do in addition to that, to get to their aspirational job.

During the Great Recession, career folks at ETA developed the My Next Move, My Skills My Future, and My Next Move for Veterans [career websites], really wonderful tools in 2009. They did it quickly, and it was really a way for you to look at what you were good at and what you liked, and what skills you had and what jobs required those skills and had those opportunities for you to pursue behavior that you liked. Do you like being with people or do you like sitting in front of a screen alone?

But, boy, the world has just transformed completely since 2009, and many technologies have taken that idea and really moved it along so much better. I would point out again, the Burning Glass people did something, I think with Citi called Worthi—Worthi with an I—that kind of looks at this in a much more skills base and looking at jobs in that skills-based frame. I would encourage people to take a look at it.

Their [MC] has done some wonderful work on this. I think there's lots of stuff going on out there that people should look at. Because what you have to decide is what's the technology that you're most comfortable with as a provider and navigator, a coach, and then what technology best suits the client that you're serving. Because it's not a one size fits all, both in terms of complexity and in terms of vocabulary, and quite frankly, in terms of the jobs they're discussing; they may not fit your geographic area. But I think there's so many tools out there that people should really be looking at to make themselves supercharged in order to make these transitions with folks.

Van Horn: If I could just add a couple of points, I agree with Jane. I think that the other point I make here is that quality of the education and training is extremely important. One of the lessons from the Great Recession is actually, there was a lot of what I would call overconsumption of not very good training. Because people are desperate to move up and ambitious, often, they grab not a lifeboat, but maybe it's a life raft that sinks. They get the wrong credential. Then what they've got is a worthless credential, which they spend a lot of time on, and then it doesn't actually relate to a job.

What that means is we need to have referees in the process. That is trusted sources, often government agencies who are investing their resources in these. We need to rely upon them to be the referees to say, hey, this delivers a good return on investment. This program, that one doesn't. If it doesn't, we're not going to give it any money. Also, give full transparency to individuals and make sure it gets to them so that when they're thinking about investing their time—and maybe it's a third party paying for it—but it's their time, that at the end of the day, they have a pretty good chance that it's going to pay off.

I think that's something we have a better capacity to do now than we did before. There's a lot more information out there. I think that's another issue, which I hope we don't repeat that same mistake of people getting a lot of essentially worthless credentials that don't relate to what a business is interested in, or a nonprofit, and hence, they're further put back in a sense, maybe even go into debt and not have something to show for it.

Oates: I think, Carl, that's so good. I want to stop here for a second because I want to play with you for a minute on something. We always... You and I both feel very strongly about labor market information. I think, speaking for both of us, we don't think there should be any training that's not looking at current labor market information, future predictions, that whole idea of you don't train somebody just because you have a good training program that you created in 1950. All of our programs for training have to be reexamined regularly to make sure they're still meeting the needs of businesses and getting people into good jobs.

But right now, I have never seen such confusion in the job signaling, what the employers are signaling. You hear people say, "Well, I worked in retail, so I guess I'm done." I don't believe that retail is finished. I believe that retail is going through a transformation, and we have to be ready for that. I don't believe that dine-in restaurants are finished. I think we're going to figure out ways to adapt and go on. But people that have been furloughed and not called back yet from those sectors and others are really getting mixed signals. They read a crazy article that says manufacturing is dead. Well, that's what we saw in the last recession, right? Notice it didn't die. But it's certainly moved from manufacturing to advanced manufacturing.

What do you think about, what advice could we give people about watching those signals and not being discouraged?

Van Horn: Well, I think what I would say is that in most states, I think, labor departments provide very good quality labor market information, which I would use instead of the USA Today article for making your decision. I go back to the essential nature of high quality government services, and that's really what most of our labor market information units provide. I think the difference is that we also have other players, if you will, private for-profit players in this space, many of them offering their services to government agencies.

But again, it's sorting out the difference between the purveyor of the training versus the person who is your independent advice. That's the difference. Certainly, if an employer says—if you have to have a master mechanic certificate to work in this auto dealership, or whatever it is, then obviously that's pretty simple. That's the one you want to get. But in other cases, it could be an employer-provided training, but in other cases, you'll have, and it will happen this time too, a lot of institutions, higher education, others, for profits, bandits marketing training programs with some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I simply say that let's make sure that the quality information is coming from our labor people. Again, they can't predict everything, but they can tell us what are the credentials people are looking for right now. If you look at most of the jobs that were posted in the first month after the closing down of the country, it was in delivery. Thousands and thousands of Instacart, and all the other services, Amazon and so on, and those jobs, they're paying more than they used to before. They're even waiving requirements for a commercial driver's license.

In many cases, those are great lifeboat jobs, because people could... Although I must say, they're also putting themselves at somewhat more risk than other people, but they were... That won't last that way forever, there will be other jobs opening up, and there are jobs opening up which require more education, training and have the ability to transfer the skills that you've had in another place to that new opportunity.

Andreason: I want to jump in with a couple of questions that actually point back to the Great Recession that we've gotten. One, particularly around labor force participation and its role as a really ascendant statistic that governors began to track very heavily during the Great Recession because of declines in participation, often because of older workers and discouraged workers. What do you think is going to happen?

The questions are a couple: one is, what do you think may happen with labor force participation, and what can it tell us today, given the contours of the current crisis? Also, how do we balance engagement in the workforce between older workers and younger workers today, and how do we balance the needs of all of those populations?

Van Horn: Well, I'll take a shot at the labor force participation issue. This is very important because if people drop out of the labor market, they're not counted in that unemployment number. That's why we often say that's a misleading indicator. It's also one that lags. You want to, right now, look at people who [are] registering for unemployment insurance. That's the better number to look at.

Going forward, as we recover. We're also going to want to look at the labor force participation; have people left, retired early, or simply given up, when in fact they need to continue working in order to have a family-sustaining income and wage. Look, there's been lots of research on this, notwithstanding any of the [inaudible] or otherwise, Americans do not want to sit at home and collect benefit checks. They want to work.

Right now, a very large percentage of those people on unemployment insurance are furloughed workers, and they think they're going to come back. The surveys show that 75 percent think they're going to return to work. I hope that's true, but many of them won't. What happens to them? Do they become permanently out of the labor market?

In the last recession, what we saw as it went on and on, a lot of those workers did stay out, and the longer they stayed out, the harder it was for them to get back in. Because there was a stigma attached to them. Employers said, "Well, if they're out of labor market for two or three years, there must be something wrong with them,” when in fact, what it was they were just misreading the economic situation that they thought I can continue to be... Fill in the blank, whatever it was, and I'll get that job back.

As Jane said earlier, this economy is going to change again, this time, very rapidly. What we want to do, especially with those workers who are at risk of dropping out of the labor market entirely, at whatever age, we want to keep them engaged, and looking at how do they get themselves marketable in the new economy. I'll stop there and let Jane add or subtract or whatever you want to do, Jane.

Oates: Never subtract. Unfortunately, with this, I have more questions than answers. I'm going to watch older workers who have always faced some discrimination, but I'm going to watch them to see if it's possible that some older workers 55 and older is how I would define them, may take early retirement if they have a defined-benefit plan. Teachers, government workers, they just may throw their hands up and say, "I just can't do remote learning in September. I went nuts this spring, I can't do it again."

If they have 30 years in their state contract, or their local contract allows them to retire after those years, you may see them taking it. If that happens, we should watch that talent pool so we can use it because we need them still. But it would be hard for me not to say that my first worry is younger workers. They were hit disproportionately right now. The youngest of younger workers [were] completely denied the opportunity in most places this summer for summer employment.

Those of us who are big supporters of summer jobs for young people know that it not only puts money in their pockets for college, for books, for transportation, but it puts skills in their toolbox, real job skills that they have gotten in those summer job programs for decades.

I know cities have no choice but not to offer those programs; some cities are doing some remote stuff. But I would hope that when these young people go back to high school or college, and I believe they will go back to college in September, that the educational institutions are looking for ways to make sure they can get those work skills, they're looking at new ways to build in work-based learning. Whether it's paid internships, or whether it's just job-related activities in classes across the spectrum, because we're going to pay for this. We're going to pay for these young people not being able to get these jobs this summer. We need to find a way to mitigate the risk of this on their longer-term workforce participation and success.

Van Horn: Just add to that, we also need to worry about a resurgence of loan defaults by students that we experienced the last time around. Again, the longer this goes on, the less their ability to get a job to begin to pay back those loans and so on. That's why, again on Congress's agenda as well, in my humble opinion, they need to be thinking about how we help those students who are challenged economically, so that they don't become folks who've defaulted and unable to often get another job because they have that on their record.

Miller: Great, a couple of pieces that were [inaudible] about in that discussion that I just wanted to pull through here because it connects to the next question. I really love what you said, Jane, about the lack of these youth employment programs for these students to build skills and for the youths to be able to build those skills. I think that's a key component that connects to the ability to get older workers back into the workforce or transition them because you're valuing this skill, and not necessarily the occupation.

Looking at the skills and the competencies within that experience, and how it connects to the next opportunity. Really looking at these market signals. Those were a couple of other questions that came through. How do we even begin to prepare folks for jobs that we don't know exist yet, and we don't understand the skills that are going to be needed?

I love that you said you have to be able to live in the fray a little bit with that and work with these labor market information experts and your employers to provide that effective signaling, so we're not promoting education and training that doesn't necessarily result in the right type of job or the right type of career pathway.

I just wanted to pull those things out because they've connected to a handful of other questions that we've received as well. But I want to take a moment and just pull us back to what we need to do to ensure that we do have an equitable and inclusive recovery. What are some of the ways that the workforce system can go about promoting equitable pathways, equitable recovery and whether that connects to wraparound supports for these populations and things like that. If you could talk a little bit about some strategies and tactics on the racial equity and inclusion side.

Van Horn: Sarah, can I just go back one second on the point you made, before we get to the next question?

Miller: Sure.

Van Horn: That is, Jane and I are both huge fans of employer-based training programs, and providing, when necessary, especially to small businesses, some subsidies to help them afford the training of onboarding employees. This is something again that's been in the toolkit for a long time, it falls in and out of favor, almost as quick as the weather changes in certain parts of the country. But it really is something, again, we should double down on this time.

I'll just tie it to the equitable point you made. Small minority women-owned businesses tend to be less than 10 employees. They can't afford often to train their workforce. Let's help them. Let's help them train up on onboarding their employees to make them effective in whatever field they're in, and they're in the complete range of fields in the United States, from manufacturing, to tech, to personal services and so on. Let's help those small businesses, those women, minority-owned businesses, who will provide economic opportunity for people in their communities.

Oates: Carl, you bring up such a good point because in 2008, 2009, ETA was always partnering, I think my people thought that I was insecure because I was always partnering with somebody else. But one of the odd partners that we had is with the Ex-Im Bank, the Export-Import Bank, because one of the ways that we saw building jobs was getting people, small businesses to learn how to export. Even if they only exported to one country, they could double or triple their market share.

I think that we don't want to ever lose track of the business. But I do want to go back, Sarah, to your question about equity. This is a hard one, because I don't know who to attribute this quote to, but somebody said this to me a long time ago, and I thank her or him, but they talked to me about the bigotry of low expectations.

It's such a meaningful phrase that sticks with me every day. How do I mean that? If somebody was laid off from a job at a local restaurant, our first inclination is to show them jobs at another restaurant, at the same pay they got when they worked before. Instead, if we could start looking at what's their skill set, and where could that skill set be utilized for a higher salary.

You're right, we don't know about what jobs are going to be there, but we do know certain things. Digital literacy is critical. Digital is everywhere. When Carl talked about the growth in jobs and delivery service, the big heading for that is e-commerce. Well, you can't work in e-commerce if you don't know how to use the technology.

We should make sure that everybody who passes through our door could pass whatever we gave as a digital fitness assessment, a digital literacy fluency test. Obviously, everybody has a smartphone and knows how to get whatever—Uber Food, whatever you want, but do they know how to do that related to a job? We should figure out how to train them to do that, so they could put it on their resume, and maybe go from what they did before with these new digital literacy skills and move into a higher-paying job.

I think we need to look carefully at growing fields like cybersecurity. Too few community colleges and too few nonprofits are training people to enter that field. Lastly, I would say, data analytics. There are so few programs below the baccalaureate level for data analytics, and yet there are lots of good jobs that pay family-sustaining wages that could also open that world of data analytics to you so you could get help from your employer to get your associates or your master's degree in that topic if it was the field that really held interest for you.

Van Horn: Those are great points. I agree with Jane. I think that it really... Another point that we have highlighted in our article about the continuing digital divide in this country. As Jane said, the data showed that most people regardless of income have some sort of smartphone. That does not make you capable of being a remote worker. You have to have your own device. It has to have broadband, high-speed broadband access. This is becoming the new form of discrimination. If you don't have that in your home, you're being left out of the economy.

We really... This is something which is a state and federal level issue. I've argued that this is a lifeline service in the same way we talked about telephones 50 years ago. You have to have broadband access because that's an essential life support. That's another... By the way, it's not that expensive to do it, although the cables and wires are all over the country in most cases. It's a particular problem in rural parts of this country. But there also digital deserts in some of the largest urban cities.

I'm proud to say as a New Jerseyan, that 95 percent of New Jerseyans have at least the wire into their apartment or home, but you have to go that last 50 feet. I'll stop there.

Andreason: We've got one more question that we want to take. There's been so many. We will work to answer the ones that we haven't been able to get to today unless everyone's ready to extend by about two hours; we could keep going. But a question came in, that we have in common, that we have not done a lot of rethinking of employment and income support. Not only unemployment insurance, but broadly employment and income support. It's something that needs some serious rethinking. Wanted to see if you all have thoughts on that.

Van Horn: Well, I'll just still make a quick comment. It's interesting that the Congress passed an income support of $1,200 bucks, I think it was for every family earning less than $100,000 a year, no questions asked. The idea that if you had proposed that nine months ago, you would have said, oh, yeah, that's interesting. That's not going to happen.

There's a toe in the water, but it will take much more than that. We have bits and pieces in our social safety net to try to address that. It's a mess, it's very hard for people to figure out what benefits are they eligible for. Is this a disincentive or incentive for taking a job? This is a huge, long-term project, but I think we can do things in the interim, just to give people more transparency about what they can in fact benefit from now, even in the patchwork confusing system that we have.

Oates: I just think it's crazy that we live in the best country in the world, and we're so stupid about certain things. I can work with a woman with three children to get her a better-paying job. But oops, if she makes $1 over, she loses her food stamps, her WIC, her childcare support, and she can no longer go to work. It's crazy. We should incentivize people making more money, earning more, learning more so that... We should recognize that they're not going to make the jump from a minimum-wage job, regardless of what that is in your local area, to family-sustaining wages in one quick leap. They're going to need those support systems, the subsidies that they got to keep them able to make that progress.

First, we saw it with the disability community when so many people with serious disabilities couldn't take that job because they'd lose their Medicaid. Isn't that insanity? We need to examine these principles, get brave elected officials who are willing to take them on and change them. Because I think this is the time; if we waste this crisis, this nightmare, the loss of already over 117,000 Americans. If we waste this and don't really take care of the things. We rip the Band-Aid off, we've seen all the ugliness that has existed, we need to fix it.

Miller: Thank you so much. Those were powerful words, Jane. I think that gives us a lot to think about here. Carl, I don't want to cut you off. If you had something else to add, I just …

Van Horn: No, I just gave an Amen to Jane's statement.

Miller: Absolutely.

Oates: We're so used to this. Amen, Carl.

Miller: Well, rest assured, you have a lot of support on the call to think critically about what the system can do, how we can push on these conversations at the federal, state and local levels. Again, as Stuart said, we could be on this call for four more hours and still have a ton of other questions that we'd likely still would not be able to get to.

We really appreciate all of your comments here today. I would say, if you can, if there's anything that we can leave for the folks on the phone here, there's one final thought that you want to put in their heads that you think has been overlooked in the static of the chaos that this pandemic has been, what might that be?

Van Horn: Well, I would just make one point, and that is I think that we need to commit to the recovery from this terrible crisis is not a recovery to the way things were before, but to a better economic situation for all Americans, free of racism, and economic opportunity for everyone. I think that's to me, the guiding light. Not to go back to what we had before, but to rethink the kind of country we want to have for everybody.

Oates: Amen to that, Carl. The only thing I would add to that is you should use the Federal Reserve Bank's tools like crazy. Their new tool on unemployment is superior. Watch for the articles. I think you're going to love the resurgence series. Whether you love it or hate it, give us your feedback, because we're really all invested in it. The Three Musketeers here, or four, Sarah.

Miller: Great, well, thanks again so much.

Andreason: Thank you everyone.

Miller: I just also want to highlight too, we can put in the chat and certainly follow up because the benefits cliffs challenge is something that the Federal Reserve in Atlanta has been looking very critically at. We have a handful of resources that are out there and more to come in the future. I know some other states, we got a comment from Kentucky, has built their own cliff tool to understand where those drops and other support services are.

We agree that's such a critical flaw, essentially, in the way that the system has been set up. We're looking at that too. But with one minute left, again, I can't thank Jane and Carl enough for joining us in the conversation. We have our future sessions coming up in July and August. We'll send all of that detail out to you so you can register. But Stu, I'll hand it over to you to close this out.

Andreason: Yeah, and I don't have a lot more to add other than just one more thank you to Jane and Carl for joining us today. Be on the lookout in about a week and a half for a synopsis. We're going to answer questions that we weren't able to get to today. I lost count a little while ago, but you guys are an incredibly engaged audience. We've gotten over 35 pieces of feedback, questions, ideas, things that we can look at. It's the work that you all do that keeps us up and helps us do things.

We're going to take that, we're going to answer everything that we can. We're going to take the feedback that we got and help us set what we work on in the future. Thank you all, and thank you all for the work that you do.

Van Horn: Thank you.

Miller: Thank you. Have a great afternoon, everyone.

Oates: Thanks, guys.

Andreason: Bye, everyone.