“I’ll be 52 when I get my bachelor’s degree,” James Pitts told the senator. “Would someone in my position benefit from the bill, or would it pay to go into business [for myself]?”
Pitts, a Gateway Community College accounting major, asked for that bit of career advice of U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal Monday afternoon.
The senator came to the college to announce that a bill he is sponsoring to provide relief to the long-term unemployed and workforce training for emerging industries is being introduced into the Senate.
“I’m here because schools like Gateway are the new frontier for job creation,” he said.
Called the Pathways Back to Work Act, the bill is part of President Obama’s attempt to revive key components of his American Jobs Act, which was killed in the Senate. The goal is to introduce those components in smaller package that is non-partisan enough to pass the Senate, Blumenthal said.
“There’s nothing Republican or Democratic about a job,” Blumenthal declared. “The American people know it. Congress needs to know it. We can’t wait until the next presidential election.”
Click here for a summary of the bill’s components.
Blumenthal’s bill totals up to $5 billion and has what he termed “three pillars”: $2 billion to create jobs for the long-term unemployed; $1.5 billion for full time and summer jobs for 16- to 24-year-olds; and $1.5 billion for workforce and on-the-job training for people of all ages at venues such as the community colleges and programs of the Workforce Alliance.
Blumenthal said the first two of the “pillars” of money would be distributed to all the states by a formula based on unemployment and poverty levels. The last pillar of $1.5 billion for skills training would be based on a competitive grant system and focus on the private sector, although those in the public sector would be able to apply as well.
He said the aim is to create jobs that respond to the market’s needs, not make-jobs: “The larger aim is to create skilled jobs and opportunities for the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the future who come from Gateway.”
Asked who would determine what kinds of jobs are needed, he said the people closest to the job market, meaning the Connecticut Workforce Alliance executives and community college staff who were sharing the podium with him.
He said the government shouldn’t be choosing winners or losers industry-wise, but Blumenthal pointed to green jobs as natural.
He hailed the fuel cell industry. “Why couldn’t we [that is, Connecticut] be the fuel cell capital of the world? But we shouldn’t say this [the bill] is about fuel cells.”
Then he looked around the room and said, “I see in faces here today a hunger for such programs.”
Among those faces was James Pitts. “We get our degrees and you have the young generation coming up. It is a competition. Everything is for the young,” he said.
While Blumenthal’s bill has pillar for young people, the largest part of the program is $2 billion for the long-term unemployed, with no age categories, the senator told his questioner.
Pitts graduated from Hamden High in 1982 and went to work for a copy machine company. He said he made some bad personal choices and dealt with substance abuse problems, which are now behind him.
Now he works in the college’s publications department. He’s planning to graduate from Gateway in May next year, and then from Southern two years later, with a degree in accounting and finance.
By then he would be 52. Companies are looking for younger people with stamina and energy, he said. But what about people with experience, and the same degree?
The bill’s largest pillar of money didn’t single support specifically for people like him in early middle age, as it does for an age category young people.
James Pitts did not call it “ageism” by name, but it was clear he felt a little left out.
After the formal remarks, Blumenthal listened again to Pitts’s concerns. Asked if the bill will help Pitts, Blumenthal responded: “I can’t say. It depends on your specific situation.”
Pitts said if by the time he has his diploma in hand the job market has not rebounded or if he faces skepticism from potential employers about an old guy starting out, then going into business for himself might be the option to pursue.
That depends on whether you are entrepreneurial enough, Sen. Blumenthal suggested.
Blumenthal said his hope is that the Pathways Back to Work Act will be passed within a few months and with bipartisan support.
The bill has co-sponsors, but Blumenthal said he was not yet able to reveal who they are.