For Immediate Release 4/27/2005
Contact: Garnet Bass, director of communications, 919-250-4314
RALEIGH, N.C. - The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center today announced the release of a 10-step plan that will help thousands of laid-off workers in North Carolina get back on their feet in the wake of widespread industry closings and downsizings. Since 2000, more than 200,000 workers in North Carolina have become 'dislocated' because their jobs have disappeared due to layoffs and business closures, and many of those jobs are not likely to return in this era of free trade and rapidly changing technologies.
"Gaining a Foothold: An Action Agenda to Aid North Carolina's Dislocated Workers" is a comprehensive plan to expand access to worker training programs, boost support services for laid-off workers and their families, simplify and streamline the current network of services available to workers, and establish economic disaster response plans for hard-hit communities. The center joined with the N.C. Community College System, the N.C. Employment Security Commission and the N.C. Department of Commerce in releasing the agenda.
"These are some of the hardest working people you'll ever meet, and through no fault of their own they've lost so much," said Rural Center President Billy Ray Hall. "We need a system in place to ensure that losing your job doesn't also mean losing your home and the ability to feed your family. Most of all, we need to give them the tools to create a new livelihood and a better future."
The action agenda is a product of the center's Rural Dislocated Worker Initiative, a broad effort to help workers find new jobs, develop crucial research on worker dislocation and advocate for public policies to deal with the issue. The center last fall convened an 18-member advisory committee made up of leaders in workforce, economic and human services programs to develop a strategic response to worker dislocation in North Carolina, where the long-term economic picture remains unstable despite a recent drop in unemployment. There are 91,000 fewer jobs in the state today than in 2000, and economists say as many textile and apparel layoffs have already been announced in 2005 as in all of 2004. This forecast, they say, is bound to worsen as the effects of the Jan. 1 lifting of remaining textile and apparel quotas ripple through those industries.
"We expect North Carolina to lose at least 35,000 more textile and apparel jobs over the next seven years, and that is on top of the jobs we've already lost," said Hall. "Other states are dealing with the economic restructuring that leads to worker dislocation as well, but I think we are certainly in a unique situation as far as impact because we are still so reliant on our manufacturing base."
Plant closings and downsizings are not exclusive to rural areas of the state, but do pose a greater threat to rural people and communities, where the workforce has been geared to low-skill jobs that require less education, there are fewer reemployment options and reemployment wages are significantly less than in urban areas. Nearly half of rural dislocated workers are age 45 or above, a disproportionate number are African-American, a majority are female, and just 15 percent have more than a high school diploma - factors that, taken together, conspire to make reemployment an especially daunting challenge.
"Retraining becomes a critical issue when you're talking about worker dislocation, and the state's community colleges have been limited in their ability to meet the needs of these workers because funding is based on the previous year's enrollment and because we need greater flexibility in terms of how the funds can be distributed," said N.C. Community College System President Martin Lancaster, a member of the advisory committee. "So that we can quickly and effectively boost funding for training programs to community colleges in high-need areas, we're asking the N.C. General Assembly to establish a reserve fund that would be replenished each budget cycle."
"The ESC is working throughout North Carolina to deal with a changing economy, replace jobs lost due to foreign trade and help grow vibrant businesses," said N.C. Employment Security Commission Chairman Harry E. Payne Jr., who - as an advisory committee member - helped co-write the recommendations included in the action agenda. "There is an abundance of small labor markets in rural North Carolina that will help us compete on a worldwide basis, and those growth areas are a major focus as we move into the future."
The action agenda was born out of the realization that worker dislocation is no longer cyclical in North Carolina and will not be limited solely to manufacturing, but instead will be a chronic issue that affects a growing number of sectors and people in the years ahead, Hall said. The work of the action agenda will now move forward under the direction of the N.C. Commission on Workforce Development, which will develop a long-term strategy to address the needs of dislocated workers, he said.
Recommendations in "Gaining a Foothold: An Action Agenda to Aid North Carolina's Dislocated Workers" include:
A call for Congress to:
- Make changes to the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program to ensure that all trade-affected workers qualify, increase the availability of training and job transition services, and provide automatic eligibility to textile and apparel workers.
A call for the N.C. General Assembly to:
- Reform the state's unemployment insurance policies to ensure that the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund is fully funded and able to respond to future demands.
- Boost state funding for key programs under the Worker Training Trust Fund that help laid-off workers access job training and other critical programs.
A call for state agencies and nonprofit organizations to:
- Design and implement an 'economic disaster' plan to encourage community economic disaster planning, prevent layoffs where possible and minimize the impact of job losses through an urgent response model.
- Improve workers' access to state and federally funded services through a simplified, streamlined information process.
To read the full report and action agenda, visit the center's publications web page.
Members of the N.C. Dislocated Worker Advisory Committee include:
Andy Anderson, President, Community Innovations, Inc.
Chris Beacham, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Research, and Strategic Planning, North Carolina Department of Commerce
Cherie Berry, Commissioner, North Carolina Department of Labor
Walter Dorsey, President, North Carolina Workforce Development Board Directors' Council
Dan Gerlach, Senior Policy Advisor for Fiscal Affairs, Office of the Governor
Ronnie Goswick, Secretary/Treasurer, North Carolina Economic Developers Association
Billy Ray Hall, President, North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center
Andrea Harris, President, North Carolina Institute of Minority Economic Development, Inc.
Martin Lancaster, President, North Carolina Community College System
Reverend Joseph Mann, Director, Rural Church Division, The Duke Endowment
Carmen Hooker Odom, Secretary, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
Harry Payne, Chairman, Employment Security Commission of North Carolina
Bill Rowe, General Counsel, N.C. Justice Center
Bill Schweke, Vice President, CFED
Roger Shackleford, Executive Director of Workforce Development, North Carolina Department of Commerce
Mark Sorrells, Senior Vice President, Golden LEAF Foundation
Lawrence Wilson, Director, Office of Economic Opportunity, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
Ruth Dial Woods, President, Ruth's Enterprises, Pembroke
The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop sound economic strategies that improve the quality of life in rural North Carolina, with a special focus on individuals with low to moderate incomes and communities with limited resources. The center operates a multi-faceted program that includes conducting research into rural issues; testing promising rural development strategies; advocating for policy and program innovations; and building the productive capacity of rural leaders, entrepreneurs and community organizations.