We have a strong economy today, thanks in part to the pro-growth policies like tax reform and regulatory relief Congress has put in place. Companies like Kroger in Cincinnati, Tremco in Cleveland, ProMedica in Toledo, and Wolf Metals in Columbus are creating jobs, raising wages and reinvesting in their businesses and their workers.
In April, the U.S. economy created 263,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent, the lowest level since 1969. The Commerce Department recently announced that real Gross Domestic Product grew at a 3.2 percent rate in the first quarter of 2019, far surpassing expectations of many economists.
Wage growth is finally going up in Ohio and across the country. In February, wage growth was 3.4 percent, the strongest we have seen since the Great Recession. It’s great to finally see wage growth increase across the board, but it’s particularly encouraging that we’re seeing it with what’s called nonsupervisory jobs, which means middle-class and blue-collar jobs. The average job growth for 2018 – 223,000 jobs per month – more than doubled pre-tax reform estimates. In fact, for 10 straight months, job openings in America have exceeded the number of unemployed individuals. This is a positive change but it also creates a challenge for employers and our economy.
I’ve visited dozens of factories and businesses over the past year, and I keep hearing the same message: They don’t have enough qualified workers to fill the jobs they have open. This so-called skills gap – the mismatch between the skills that are in demand in the local economy and the skills of available workers – is a real problem. It’s holding back our economy from reaching its full potential.
In Ohio right now, there are more than 150,000 job openings, but many of these jobs require skills, including welders and machinists, coders and other information technology jobs, hospital technicians, nurses, commercial truck drivers and others. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.3 million U.S. jobs are currently vacant largely because of a shortage of qualified workers. The National Skills Coalition estimates that nearly half of all job openings between now and 2022 will be ‘middle-skill’ jobs that require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.
This is why Career and Technical Education (CTE), which provides students with the academic and technical skills, knowledge and training necessary to succeed in future careers, is so important. I am co-founder and co-chair of the Senate CTE Caucus and the author of legislation to strengthen CTE programs and help connect Ohioans to good-paying jobs.
Earlier this year, I introduced legislation with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia called the JOBS Act, which will make CTE programs more affordable for low-income students. Currently, low-income students are eligible for federal Pell Grants if they attend a college for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, but not if they choose to enroll in an accredited CTE program under 15 weeks. This doesn’t make sense, and the JOBS Act would fix it.
Recently, I toured Venture Products, a family-owned company that designs and makes tractor equipment in Orrville. Like so many Ohio companies, they have used their tax savings to make additional investments in their business and their workers. After the tour I met with businesses, economic development experts, and educators in the region and they all made clear that in order to keep growing their business they need access to more skilled workers. We talked about the need to strengthen CTE programs, and how our JOBS Act legislation would help.
In the past couple of weeks, I’ve also visited schools like Sinclair Community College and Central Ohio Technical College, whose students would benefit if this legislation becomes law. This bill is a top legislative priority this year, and I’m working to get it passed as Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.
By passing the JOBS Act, we could immediately help thousands of young people have better opportunities. We also would help our economy that is desperate for more skilled workers. Let’s seize this opportunity, keep growing our economy, and help more Americans fulfill their God-given potential.
Rob Portman is a Republican U.S. Senator representing Ohio.