We hear that the latest multimillionaire governor of Nebraska, Jim Pillen, has formed a commission to solve the mystery of why workers are not flocking to our state. In a press conference on Saturday, the governor stated that “our unemployment rate remains among the lowest in the nation, creating a unique challenge for attracting great people to our state”.
Let’s pause for a moment to puzzle over the logic implied here. First, it presents a low unemployment rate as a “challenge”. As far as we know, that means that we don’t have a lot of people who can’t find jobs here in Nebraska, which you’d think would be a good thing? But that’s us talking like workers and people who don’t like it when our friends and family are struggling financially because they can’t find work. A low unemployment rate is really only a “challenge” when you’re an employer looking to hire people at the lowest possible wage. Without a lot of competition for jobs, employers might have to pay a little more to persuade people to work for them, especially if it’s kind of a shitty job.
You might be thinking, even if employers paid a little more, perhaps there’s still a problem in that there aren’t enough qualified people for particular jobs. But this is more or less the same kind of “challenge” for employers because then they’d have to put out money to train workers, and, given the low unemployment rate, they might even have to pay the people while they are putting in the hours to learn the job. Oh no! Is the era of unpaid internships coming to an end???
Don’t worry, this is where the workforce commission comes into its own. Of the twenty-three members listed, six of them are educational institutions, from public schools to community colleges to the state college system to the University of Nebraska. They are of course major employers themselves, but they can also volunteer to take on all the worker training so that employers don’t have to pay. It’s kind of brilliant actually, since (with the exception of K-12 public schools, but they’re working on that) the workers themselves will pay tuition to be trained. So as long as employers require certain credentials, the training can be outsourced to higher education, whose role in the state is rapidly being reduced to workforce training.
That reduces the “challenge” of a low unemployment rate to a simple matter of attracting more people to the state, or at least keeping people from running away from it. If the governor were serious about solving this problem, he would ask the workers themselves. What do people want in their jobs? An obvious place to look for well-formed answers to these questions would be union contracts, or (gasp!) putting worker’s union representatives on the commission. But every single one of the members of this commission are bosses, who probably can’t remember the last time they made under six figures or struggled to pay rent or tuition or medical bills. There isn’t even a handpicked token worker on there.
We look forward to hearing what answers this gold star commission of employers led by our silver-spoon governor will come up with as an answer to the mystery of what workers might want here in Nebraska. Most of the entertainment provided by our GOP-led state recently has been police procedurals, Christian lifetime dramas, and the occasional Nebraska spin-off of Scandal. We’re looking forward to a comedy.