Some can, and good for them. But many cannot. Here’s just one example. Janesville, Wisconsin had the oldest General Motors car factory in America, one that candidate-Obama visited in 2007 and said would be there for a hundred more years. Two days before Christmas the same year and just before Obama’s inauguration for change and hope, the plant closed forever and threw some 5,000 people out of work. This devastated the town, because you either worked in the plant or worked in a business that depended on people working in the plant. The new president and Congress quickly paid for a two million dollar retraining program in Janesville, using the state community colleges as a base, same as the trade schools the government built to teach new immigrants trades needed by that same factory a hundred years earlier.
Only about a third in Janesville were able to finish their retraining programs, and then only to find themselves trained unemployed people instead of untrained unemployed people. Just because a factory hand now had a certificate in Heating and Ventilation did not mean there was such a job; jobs create training needs, training doesn’t create jobs. There were plenty of people already out there with Heating and Ventilation certification, never mind actual college degrees, ahead in line when a job did open up, whether in Wisconsin or elsewhere. The ones that did find work—some work—saw their take home pay drop by thirty-six percent. And despite all the political talk about retraining, there’s not been much study done on whether it works; the last large-scale study used data from 2005 and only accounted for twelve of the fifty states. One person even called it all “The Great Train(ing) Robbery.”