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Congressman Adrian Smith

Representing the 3rd District of Nebraska


Closing the Jobs Gap

March 9, 2018

One of the most common concerns I hear while traveling the Third District is the roadblocks employers are facing in finding qualified workers. Considering the high number of Americans currently sitting on the economic sidelines, we have a great opportunity before us to close the jobs gap and help more people experience prosperity.

Right now, approximately six million jobs are going unfilled in our country. At the same time, more working-age adults are in poverty than ever before, as fewer men and women are employed today than in the past. More than seven million men and five million young adults are not working or in school. These alarming trends harm families as well as our economy.

The rate of poverty among those working full-time is only three percent. To take full advantage of the economic growth generated by tax reform, we need to find ways to bring more Americans back into the workforce with stable employment. This challenge is our main focus on the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, which I chair.

Poverty is often assumed to be more prevalent in cities. However, poverty rates are underestimated in rural and remote areas, where for decades they have steadily risen higher than in urban areas.

I recently spoke to a gathering hosted in Washington, D.C., by the National Association of Counties. We talked about the importance of putting the “human” back in human services and helping people realize their full potential. Many of the best approaches to fighting poverty are happening at the local level. We want to learn from these successes, and we have held multiple hearings in our subcommittee in recent months to learn from local experts and help lay the groundwork for our efforts.  

The ranking member of our subcommittee, Congressman Danny Davis, is from urban Chicago. Our congressional districts could not be more different, but we have found the challenges of empowering people out of poverty are universal, even if they require different solutions. National, one-size-fits-all policies are less effective than providing local organizations the flexibility needed to serve their communities.

Our subcommittee is working on multiple avenues for supporting local anti-poverty efforts, including the recent reauthorization of the home visiting program, support for reemployment services, funding for child welfare prevention services, and an alternative, flexible funding structure for states and counties through social impact partnerships.

We need to make sure our anti-poverty policies support and reward work. We also must shift the metrics from inputs like dollars spent or number of people on the rolls to evidence and outcomes in order to determine whether these programs are making a difference.

Another aspect of solving the workforce puzzle is promoting vocational education. Pursuing a four-year degree is an excellent path, but it is far from the only option. Many of our country’s trades are experiencing shortages, and we should be encouraging more students to seek out the technical training necessary for these beneficial careers. Employers are often best equipped to help their employees attain the skills needed to succeed in their jobs, and we must do more to pair prospective workers with businesses which can train them to fill these job openings.

President Trump expressed his commitment to workforce development in his State of the Union address earlier this year, and our subcommittee is eager to partner with him to help a greater percentage of Americans achieve independence and experience the dignity of work. With a focus on unlocking the potential in more people, we can ensure a brighter future for our country.