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Chairman Smith Opening Statement at Human Resources Subcommittee Hearing on Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults to Break the Cycle of Poverty

May 17, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Adrian Smith (R-NE) today delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee hearing entitled “Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults to Break the Cycle of Poverty.”

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing on opportunities for youth and young adults to break the cycle of poverty.

“There is an alarming trend happening in this country—the fact that one in seven 16-24 year olds in the United States are neither in school nor working. This totals more than 5.5 million youth nationwide.  

“Most concerning is that these young people are not entering the workforce when the national unemployment rate is now 4.4 percent and the economy is making progress, putting themselves at a disadvantage from the get-go. We know that workers who do not graduate from high school face higher rates of unemployment, regardless of economic conditions, dwindling job prospects, and lower lifetime earnings. This is then compounded by the fact that unemployment disproportionally affects minorities, which account for some our country’s fastest growing populations.

“Without gainful employment and the ability to build a career, the consequences are dire for these young people and their families. Many will have significant difficulties gaining the skills and knowledge to attain self-sufficiency, putting them and their children at-risk of falling into a life of poverty and the need for long-term government support.  

“The risks of not addressing this trend are also critical for American business, which have millions of job openings but are unable to find skilled and talented employees to hire. Our economy cannot grow if it cannot rely on the American worker to produce.

“While this Subcommittee works day in and day out to help people move from welfare to work, we often focus on the adults already within the system through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or Unemployment Insurance. But what if we focused on what works in helping young people before they ever have to step foot into an unemployment or welfare office?   

“While there are dozens of major federal programs dedicated to helping these youth – from job training and education to social services and juvenile justice – we have not seen major improvements in desired outcomes, such as program completion, improved wages, or increased self-sufficiency. Sometimes it is because the government proposed solution does not address the strengths of the participants. For youth who may have struggled in high school, dropping them on the doorstep of a four year university may not be the best solution. 

“The Government Accountability Office has written multiple reports on these programs, identifying duplication, poor employment outcomes and educational attainment, and lack of coordination for youth seeking these services. In fact, just today, the GAO is releasing yet another report detailing incredibly low participation in the numerous work incentive programs offered to young adults transitioning off of the Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, program. Less than one and a half percent of SSI youth participate in the largest of SSA’s work incentive programs, the Student Earned Income Exclusion, which permits children receiving SSI to attempt work without being concerned about their eligibility status or benefit amount. And few if any youth on SSI receive vocational training and education services offered by the Department of Education, despite recent changes to the law requiring them to focus on this population in particular.

“So that’s why we are here today, to discuss innovative programs and partnerships that ARE addressing this trend and providing young people transitioning into adulthood with the necessary skills and support to find work and climb the economic ladder.  

“One such example is The HUB located in Lincoln, Nebraska, which provides a central access point for young adults. The HUB assists 16 to 24 year olds often without a high school diploma transitioning into adulthood who are disconnected from their family and their community. It provides a 16-week hands-on program known as Project HIRE that addresses potential barriers to employment and gives youth the problem solving skills needed to address situations as they arise. It then helps these young people attain employment and provides support along the way to ensure success.  

“We know that the best way to reduce poverty is through work and work related experiences, such as on-the-job training and employer-sponsored internships and apprenticeships. These experiences not only provide occupational skills training for jobs that exist, but they also help in growing an individual’s network, improve soft skills, and build resumes.  

“So instead of counting 5.5 million young people out, the focus needs to be on these innovative approaches that help these ‘opportunity youth’ find private sector employment and career development. 

“Today, I am excited to learn from our witnesses about their evidence-based practices that focus on results, highlight how the private sector can help in leading these efforts, and provide a roadmap to improving young people’s outlook for the future.”