Washington, D.C. – Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Adrian Smith (R-NE) today delivered the following opening statement at a Subcommittee hearing on “Jobs and Opportunity: Perspectives on the Jobs Gap.”
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Remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Welcome to the first in an important series of hearings the Human Resources Subcommittee will be holding to focus on Jobs and Opportunity. The purpose of these hearings is to demonstrate how as our economy continues to strengthen following the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, employers demand for workers is growing and our human services programs have a role in supporting the next wave of workers needed to continue this economic growth.
“On Tuesday the President issued an executive order directing agencies to seek new opportunities to reorient our welfare system toward economic opportunity. I agree with the President on this matter and appreciate him bringing the right tone at the right time to this conversation.
“During these hearings we’re going to be talking a lot about the ‘jobs gap’ – the difference between employers’ demand for workers, shown as job openings, and the declining number of individuals in the workforce, shown as the labor force participation rate. The space in the middle separating those two lines is what we are calling the jobs gap.
“Addressing the jobs gap is about accessing economic growth and opportunity for those on the sidelines of the American workforce. This is particularly important given the healthy labor market and low unemployment rate we are seeing as a result of businesses creating jobs and expanding after enactment of the new tax law.
“Just this week the Washington Post Editorial Board highlighted this issue by saying, ‘American employers in an array of industries — manufacturing, agriculture, trucking, home building, energy, food service, retail and others — are warning a long-brewing labor shortage is reaching crisis proportions.’
“The Wall Street Journal reported if every last jobless citizen in the 12 Midwestern states filled an open job in the region, 180,000 positions would still be left unfilled.
“What do employers and job openings have to do with the programs under the human resources subcommittee? A lot actually. We know when individuals and parents work full-time, the poverty rate drops to just 3 percent. We know when workers are matched to employers, with the supports provided by programs under this subcommittee–such as child care, case management, and transportation–that work, and the American Dream, can become a reality for more Americans.
“Last year, this subcommittee set the stage for this discussion today. Those hearings were about people on the sidelines. We heard from experts to examine the declining employment of working age men who told us there are more than 7 million men in America not working or looking for work. We also heard about the troubling trend we are seeing among our youth and young adults, those 16 to 24-year olds. We learned there are 5.5 million who are not in school and not working.
“This hearing takes the next step to see how this reality is translating for employers and workers at the local level. Now we see employers getting more involved by investing in apprenticeships, training, and helping individuals get connected to supportive services to address barriers to employment.
“What’s different now is a strong economy, fueled by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This isn’t about charity or government programs. We will hear from our witnesses there is a strong business case, meaning it is in the best interest of their business, to invest in building the workforce.
“Today we will hear from Connie Wilhelm, Chief Executive Officer at the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona. Ms. Wilhelm runs a large homebuilders association representing employers with growing workforce needs. As a way to address this, her association has partnered with Arizona correctional facilities to prepare inmates for jobs after release by getting them access to training in the construction trades and addressing needs for transportation, housing, and soft skills. She’s not running a social service agency. This is a mutually beneficial partnership which supplies homebuilders with much-needed workers and gives inmates marketable skills they can use to find employment when they are released. It’s a win-win.
“I’m most excited to hear from Mr. Brian Potaczek, the embodiment of this partnership. He is now working as an electrician at Austin Electric after participating in training at the Arizona Department of Corrections Employment Center. I’m grateful to him for sharing his story and helping our Subcommittee gain a fuller picture of the issue at hand.
“My top priority for this Subcommittee in this Congress continues to be ensuring greater opportunity for all Americans. This hearing features two panels of witnesses who are experiencing real workforce challenges and have stepped up to the plate to show ways we can get individuals back into the labor force.
“Today, I am excited to learn from our witnesses about their experiences and what’s working in local communities so we can translate these lessons into better public policies which help families escape poverty and climb the economic ladder.”