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Jobs and Opportunity: How the Federal Government Is Addressing the Jobs Gap

April 18, 2018

This week, the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) held its second hearing on “Jobs and Opportunity” in preparation for reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The Committee hosted Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Alexander Acosta to discuss how workforce programs under the Department can be better leveraged to help move workers off the sidelines and back into the workforce.

Subcommittee on Human Resources Chairman Adrian Smith (R-NE) opened up the hearing saying:

“Our economy is flourishing and there are millions of jobs that need to be filled. … We are going to need more workers to fill these jobs if we want to keep this momentum going. … If we can solve this challenge it will be an across the board victory for American workers, American families, American businesses, and the American economy.”

Chairman Brady said in his opening remarks:

“It’s clear that our human services programs have a role in supporting the next wave of workers needed to continue this economic growth. American companies are expanding and looking for more customers overseas. If we’re going to maximize America’s growing economy and this new pro-growth tax code, then we are going to need more workers. 

“I’ve heard from business owners across the country who are looking for qualified applicants but striking out. That’s why…we’re looking at ways to help Americans who are stuck on the sidelines find work, grow their careers, and achieve the American Dream.”

Secretary Acosta told the Committee in his opening remarks that because our economy is finally firing on all cylinders with the help of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Department of Labor has been working to keep our economy moving forward:

“At the Department of Labor, we’re creating opportunity for all Americans by expanding apprenticeships across all industries, by streamlining traditional workforce education, and providing state leaders the flexibilities they need to meet the needs of job creators and their local workforces.”

The Secretary noted:

We hope that growth will continue…as the Committee knows well, there are more than six million open jobs.”

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN) stressed that we need to focus on the effectiveness of federal workforce programs, not just how many people receive those benefits:

“I chaired the Nutrition Subcommittee for the Ag Committee in 2015 and 2016 and we conducted a comprehensive review of SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, over 16 hearings. One thing that stuck is the idea of moving away from just counting the number served and focusing instead on outcomes. We can’t just stop asking how many people receive benefits, but we have got to go a step deeper: did the recipient keep a job, are they moving up the economic ladder – if not, what happened? We get a much more comprehensive picture from which we can evaluate the effectiveness of these programs.” 

Rep. Walorski added:

“The recent Executive Order on reducing poverty acknowledges, however, that the outcomes being measured also need to be aligned across agencies to the greatest extent possible; so that we can look at workforce agencies like TANF and SNAP and other programs and see how they’re working and see how we can improve them.”

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) made note that many employers are using their savings from tax reform to reinvest in their workforce, working to close the jobs gap:

“I know of many employers who are using the benefits of the tax cuts and the tax overhaul to reinvest in education and reinvest in training their employees. Our employers are now working on these apprenticeship programs…to draw that talent into the industries.”

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) stressed that flexibility is crucial as we work to implement policies to get people back into the workforce:

“What I hear from your testimony is to encourage us as legislators that if we want promote a work requirement and to reward people and give them opportunities that a skill set will be able to take care of them and their families for a generation. Break those silos, give flexibility. We accomplish a mutual goal that I think we all share – Democrats and Republicans – to empower people to have the skills to be able to go out and take care of themselves.”   

Secretary Acosta also emphasized the demand from governors for more flexibility to focus funds on where they best serve the needs of communities:

“There are currently over 40 different workforce education programs across agencies, that is a number of programs that often overlap. We’ve requested now for two years in a row flexibility so that governors can redirect funds within their state from one workforce education program to another education program, on the theory that I think is absolutely correct, which is all the states are different.

“Nebraska is different from California which is very different from Florida. I would point out it’s not just cooperation between the agencies, but also flexibility to allow the governors to focus workforce education funds where they best serve the needs of their states.”

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) also mentioned that, in order to keep the newfound business optimism growing, we need to find ways to connect workers to good-paying and meaningful jobs:

“Last month, I had the opportunity to actually visit some places back in our district. One was Wheatland Tubes, AK Steel, the LORD Corporation, and Sharon Fence.  And I heard a common refrain: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is working. But now businesses are faced with a different problem: finding qualified workers to fill jobs. Thanks to this President, we currently have a record-low unemployment. But in order for it to keep growing we need to do a better job at training and connecting workers with jobs.”

Secretary Acosta noted to Mr. Kelly that DOL is looking for creative ways to help move people off the sidelines, including working with opioid addiction treatment facilities:

“The Department of Labor has put out a call for proposals to do pilot programs on how we can integrate workforce services, workforce training, workforce counseling into opioid addiction treatment facilities. On the theory, which I think is completely correct, that someone that has a job is going to have a purpose to avoid going back on the opioids, is going to have a purpose then to move forward. Along the same lines…it’s not important just to have a job, but a career path. … That gives individuals a purpose and a goal to work toward.”

Chairman Brady closed the hearing by saying there is a bipartisan commitment to keep our economy moving forward by helping people into full-time, good-paying jobs:

“If you look at every economic analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, they predict higher economic growth for America, higher economic growth for the world. But now here is where they start to pull their punches and why: they’re not convinced America will develop the workers we need to take advantage of now one of the most competitive tax codes on the planet. … You’re working with us in a bipartisan way because I’m convinced Democrats and Republicans both want to see people get back to work. … We think we can do a better job of matching those local hope-to-be workers with those local jobs.” 

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Committee’s work to address the jobs gap.