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C.E.D. Urges 'Life Cycle' Strategy for Labor Force

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A prominent panel of business and education leaders is calling for a "life cycle" strategy that would nurture Americans from infancy to old age to prevent serious skill and labor shortages in the next century.

In a report released this month, An America That Works: The Life-Cycle Approach to a Competitive Work Force, the Committee for Economic Development warns that "dramatic population shifts and significant changes in the nature of work are making many of our existing public and private policies and institutions obsolete."

In the future, it points out, there will be relatively fewer working-age people to support the retired population. And an increasing proportion of those workers will be women and minorities who have not been easily assimilated into the job market in the past or well treated by the educational system.

To ensure that these current and future workers are able to meet the demands of an increasingly complex and technological labor market, the report concludes, "public policies that affect the workforce need to be integrated across the life cycle," rather than attacking health care, education, and job-training problems in a piecemeal and fragmented fashion.

The ced's comprehensive set of recommendations addresses everything from the availability of child care to the creation of a tax credit for businesses that provide employee training.

The report follows similar grim predictions about the ill-preparedness of the American workforce that have been released by the U.S. Labor Department and the National Center on Education and the Economy. But it is likely to carry particular weight given its sponsor.

The ced is an independent research and educational organization whose 250 trustees include some of the nation's top business executives as well as the presidents of major research universities.

The report was developed by the group's subcommittee on demographics and jobs, headed by Frank P. Doyle, senior vice president of the General Electric Company, and Rocco Siciliano, retired chairman of ticor, a financial-services company.

"Public policy often tends to segment problems artificially, by age group or subject matter," note the report's authors. "Our hope is that this report will change the way that this nation thinks about its human resources."

According to the report, investing in young people and education has a "double-barrel benefit."

"Youths who turn away from a life of dependency and instead become productive workers will pay more taxes and draw down fewer benefits," it argues.

But it also points out that policies that help older workers adjust to changing circumstances could help younger workers as well. Thus, it advocates an approach to policy that considers the needs of all age groups simultaneously.

To help the country's youngest citizens, the report's recommendations include:

Placing a priority on prenatal care for pregnant teenagers and otherwomen without medical insurance.

Providing full funding of Head Start for every eligible child between the ages of 3 and 5 who is not already enrolled in a school program.

Developing specific goals for educational attainment at the state, district, and school levels and then freeing local schools and districts to use educational resources more wisely.

Encouraging businesses to work with state and local school systems to identify employability skills more precisely and to ease the transition from school to work.

Creating more alternative schools to reclaim dropouts and prepare them for productive citizenship.

Urging businesses to offer incentives, such as jobs or scholarships, to keep at-risk youths in school.

The report says that one of the strongest roles business can play is as an advocate both for children and for quality education.

"At a time when parents with children in public schools make up a minority of the nation's voters, business' sustained involvement in promoting quality education for all can be a powerful and persuasive force," it notes.

At the federal level, the report recommends capping the child- and dependent-care tax credit and using the revenue to help poor families, increasing the earned-income tax credit to make work more rewarding for low-income Americans, and earmarking a significant amount of unemployment-insurance funds for the retraining and relocation of workers.

But the report does not endorse legislatively mandated approaches to family leave, which it claims impose "arbitrary and costly requirements on business."

Instead, it encourages employers to institute their own family-leave policies, suited to their circumstances.

The document also asks employers to increase their involvement in child-care-assistance programs through a variety of options.

These include helping employees find and select appropriate child care by providing them with information and counseling, providing child-care assistance as part of benefit packages, allowing for more flexible work schedules, and operating child-care facilities.

One of the report's most controversial recommendations may be in the area of immigration. The report notes that one way to increase the supply of workers is through immigration policies.

It recommends giving more careful and explicit consideration to the labor-market effects of immigration in shaping such policies. And it advocates increasing the percentage of immigrants allowed into the United States because of needed job skills, from the current 10 percent to 40 percent by 1998.

The report warns, however, that increasing immigration to meet labor-market needs "must not substitute for upgrading the skills of the U.S.-born population or for bringing more disadvantaged citizens into the workforce."

In addition, it cautions, immigration policies should not be shaped only by labor-market needs. "Strong consideration should continue to be given to family reunification, humanitarian, foreign policy, and other criteria," it states.

Copies of the report are available for $15 each, plus a 10 percent charge for postage and handling, from the Committee for Economic Development, Distribution Division, 477 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022. Orders under $50 must be prepaid.

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