A Healthy Economy Needs a Healthy Workforce | Speaker.gov

There’s no question the economy is thriving. The unemployment rate has now dipped to 3.9 percent, its lowest point since December 2000. Wages and disposable income are climbing, and growth remains strong.  

But amidst all these positives, employers are still struggling to recruit skilled workers to fill job vacancies.

As we started explaining earlier this year, America is experiencing a substantial worker shortage. Consider these snapshots published over the last week alone from a few towns across the country:

In Missouri: “McCarthy Building Cos., a St. Louis-based general contractor that builds hospitals, airports and other public-works projects nationwide, says business is booming but it’s struggling to find workers. On any given day it is working on $8 billion to $9 billion worth of projects across the U.S., up from $6 billion two years ago," CEO Mike Bolen says.

'There are more jobs than there are qualified people to do them,’ he said. ‘Regardless of geography, regardless of whether it’s a $25-an-hour general laborer or an engineer with 10 years of experience. It seems like the marketplace has eaten up all the individual talent and we’re all trying to poach each other.’”

In Nebraska: “The North Platte, Neb., chamber of commerce last year started offering up to $10,000 to move into town for a job. At the time, Gary Person, the chamber’s president, said the money was intended to encourage people to ‘put down some roots,’ while helping the town of 24,000 fill some of its hundreds of open jobs.”

In Iowa: “Employers in Marne, Iowa, population 100 or so, also struggle to find workers, said Randy Baxter, the town’s mayor. The state has an unemployment rate of 2.8%, one of the lowest in the U.S. A local committee in Marne offers newcomers free land to build a house.”

At this moment, there are 6.6 million job openings across the country—yet we have many work-capable Americans on the sidelines who are not participating in the workforce.

It is imperative that we bring these people into the fold. A look at the growth of federal benefits recipients provides some perspective on the need for reforms that prompt people to join the workforce. Consider this: The last time the unemployment rate sat below 4 percent, there were 17 million SNAP recipients. Today, there are 42 million.

As The Wall Street Journal wrote this weekend, “There’s a debate about how many workers continue to sit on the sidelines given the still-low labor participation rate. But the best way to find out is to keep the economy growing and pass welfare reforms to improve the incentives to work.”

This is why we’re working to advance a workforce development agenda—including the 2018 Farm Bill—that will tie work requirements to federal benefits, reinvest savings into skills training and vocational programs to help workers become qualified or retrained, and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to share in the dignity of work.

As Speaker Ryan said this week, “We are going to keep pushing to close the skills gap, to close the opportunity gap, to make sure that all these jobs that are being made available are being filled with workers who are getting great careers and good lives, and going from poverty and welfare to work, so that they can find their own vision of the American Idea.”

Read more about our efforts to develop America’s workforce and unleash opportunity: