This is not your father’s WPA program.
The economic stimulus package that President Obama signed last week has been compared by supporters and many a commentator to the depression-era Works Progress Administration. The stimulus legislation, like its predecessor, is designed to create and save jobs especially for men and lesser-educated Americans who -- because they tend to be disproportionately represented in lower-skill jobs -- tend to be affected most powerfully by economic downturns.
But much as the rhetoric surrounding the stimulus legislation has portrayed it as focusing on creating jobs related to “shovel ready” infrastructure and other projects, significant numbers of the jobs that will be either created or saved by the financial package will require at least some kind of college degree, according to an analysis by Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce.
The study finds that 54 percent of the 3.7 million jobs that the White House Council for Economic Advisors and the Office of the Vice President estimate will be created or saved by the $787 billion stimulus package will require at least a postsecondary certificate, with a full 37 percent of the jobs requiring an associate degree or greater.
Even many of the jobs that do not require a degree, however, may compel would-be workers to return to college or otherwise get more training to be eligible to fill them, the Georgetown center's analysis shows. Forty-six percent of the positions that the center defines as "non-college" (meaning that they do not require a degree of some kind) will require employer-provided classroom training of anywhere from a month to more than four years; a third will require at least six months of informal on-the-job training; and at least a quarter will require some kind of apprenticeship -- programs that are frequently offered by community colleges and for-profit institutions of higher education.
Anthony P. Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown center, said he and his colleagues conducted the study to help gauge how much education and training money should be included as part of the stimulus package (the final package signed by President Obama contains nearly $4 billion worth of job training funds, on top of tens of billions of dollars in Pell Grant and federal work study money.
The center's data, which were based on a study  by Christina Romer and Jared Bernstine for the White House, show that for all the talk of creating a stimulus plan aimed at "shovel ready" transportation and other infrastructure projects, many of the jobs to be created will be in service-related and other fields that require significant education.
"This isn't a bill for people with shovels, it's a bill for people with training and college degrees," says Carnevale, in contrast to the WPA to which the stimulus package is so often compared. "If we ran this chart in the WPA, there'd be almost no postsecondary" training necessary, he says.But the American economy has shifted so much that even when policy makers try to craft an economic solution that specifically helps out those low-skilled workers most hurt by the downturn, Carnevale says, "you bump into skill issues" and discover that many of the available jobs will require additional, significant training or education.
That finding has significant -- and arguably negative -- implications for underskilled workers those eager to help them, Carnevale says.But it is very good news for colleges -- especially community colleges and for-profit institutions that provide job training, he says. "There's obviously direct aid in [the stimulus package] to help keep colleges running," he says, but with 30 percent of all job training done in accredited educational institutions or contracted out to them, "the other thing the bill does is ensure a steady supply of customers needing their services."