Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on Jobs and Opportunity with Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta
Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting the Secretary of Labor here to discuss this important issue.
We agree that there’s a problem here. Good jobs are going unfilled, and millions of Americans need jobs or need to move up to better jobs. A 2015 report by the Manufacturing Institute estimated that over the next decade, two million manufacturing jobs in this country could go unfilled due to the skills gap. The New England Council reported similar results. At a time when we are trying to compete in the global economy and families across the country are trying to reach and stay in the middle class, we can’t afford that.
Here’s where we don’t agree: President Trump’s recent executive order seems premised on the belief that we have a jobs gap because people just don’t want jobs. And his solution is to cut off benefits to motivate them to work—like food, housing, health care, or benefits they use to buy school supplies or put gas in the car.
I believe that if you offer people real opportunities, they take them. If given a choice between a good job and something else, people take the good jobs, because they want a better life for themselves and their families. So if people aren’t filling those job openings, it’s not because they don’t want to. It’s because they can’t.
Our jobs gap is really a skills gap. Many workers just don’t have the right skills for some of the best jobs our economy is currently producing. If we help Americans upgrade their skills, those open jobs will become real opportunities, and people will take them.
We know how to help people upgrade their skills. Registered apprenticeships, community colleges, career pathways programs that combine work, training, and supports like child care – all of those things help people learn skills and lead to good jobs with a future.
But last year, the President proposed cutting our main employment and training services programs by 40 percent. And this year, even after the bipartisan budget act made far more money available, all the Administration did was agree to continue job training funding at a level that is barely half of what Congress authorized on a bipartisan basis. They proposed cutting Trade Adjustment Assistance funding to help trade-displaced workers go to community college and learn new skills. And we read in the newspaper that the Administration is quietly working a plan to cut the worker support funding Congress just provided in the Omnibus appropriations bill.
Our Committee doesn’t have jurisdiction over the main job training programs, but we do oversee the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is supposed to help move parents from welfare to work and get families out of poverty. In the past, Republicans on this Committee have strongly opposed commonsense efforts to help parents receiving TANF participate in education and training that leads to good jobs. I hope they will reconsider that position. Our recent bipartisan work at the Committee to authorize and fund reemployment services shows how much we can accomplish when agree to invest in workers.
At the same time as we invest in worker skills, we should be asking employers what they are doing about the jobs gap. Basic economics says that when employers don’t get the quality of job applicants they are looking for, the answer is to raise wages. So why are wages still stagnant, even after employers got a windfall in the Republican tax bill? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American saw an increase of just $6.21 a week during the three months after the tax bill, far below the $4,000 a year Congressional Republicans and President Trump promised, and we’ve already seen some corporations give their windfall to Wall Street.
There’s a real problem here, and there’s a real solution. Instead of adding $2.3 trillion to our debt to provide the wealthy and big corporations with tax cuts, and then vilifying American workers who are trying to get ahead, we should fight to raise wages and invest in the skills that lead to opportunity.