Skip to content

Statement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) at the HELP Committee Hearing “A Stronger Workforce Investment System for a Stronger Economy”

As Prepared for Delivery

“In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama made clear his commitment to getting Americans back to work.  As he put it, job creation is ‘our number one focus for 2010.’  This is why we must act swiftly to ensure that American workers have the education, skills training, and supports they need to compete and thrive in the 21st Century global job market.  That is why we have convened this hearing today to examine the future of the Workforce Investment Act, as we move toward reauthorization of this important program. 

“I’d like to thank my colleagues for joining me today, especially our Ranking Member, Senator Enzi, and also Senators Murray and Isakson, who, as Chair and Ranking Member of the Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee, have shown such leadership over the past decade on issues relating to workforce development.  I appreciate their partnership as we work on reauthorizing WIA.  I would also like to thank their staffs, who continue to work tirelessly – and in a bipartisan fashion.  And, of course, I thank our witnesses for agreeing to share their expertise with us.

“In 1998, Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act to modernize the cornerstone of our nation’s workforce development system by serving both employers in need of a skilled workforce and workers in search of jobs.  While the program has been successful, the challenges facing us have changed dramatically since the Workforce Investment Act was created over a decade ago.  In 1998, the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent, the CBO projected a federal budget surplus and our economy was booming. 

“Despite the success of the Recovery Act in jumpstarting economic growth, the official national unemployment rate remains high at just under 10 percent.  In Iowa unemployment is nearly 7 percent.

“In part, these harsh realities are the consequences of an unusually deep recession, but they also reflect a lack of training and education in large segments of our workforce.  Recent studies indicate that more than 40 percent of U.S. workers do not have the basic skills to do their jobs.  In an era of massive layoffs and downsizing, it is more important than ever that job seekers have access to the education and training they need to shift careers and adjust to the changing economy.

“Developing and maintaining a highly trained, highly educated workforce is paramount for our economic success.  If businesses are unable to find workers in this country who have the education and training to fill the jobs of the 21st Century, they will be compelled to look abroad to remain competitive—and our economy will suffer accordingly.  Today’s we’ll hear from experts who are working to improve and strengthen our nation’s workforce development system.  I look forward to hearing about ways to encourage collaboration and shared accountability for the education and employment needs of all Americans, especially those with barriers to employment.  And to learning more about how we can make both new and existing programs more accessible and meaningful for employers, workers, and job-seekers.  

“I am especially interested in hearing about ways that we can ensure that one-stop employees are trained not only in the various services available, but also to address any special needs that customers may have.

“Unfortunately, the promise that one-stop centers would be physically and programmatically accessible to people with disabilities has remained largely unmet.  With a few exceptions, it is still difficult in many states for individuals with disabilities to access the comprehensive array of services at the one-stops.  Since only 36 percent of individuals with disabilities are employed, we must do all we can to remove any additional barriers for individuals with disabilities who seek assistance in finding a job.

“Most decisions about how best to meet people’s needs should be made at the state and local levels. That’s why, as we modernize WIA, we must ensure flexibility for local workforce systems to tailor their services to specific local and regional needs, and also to adapt to future changes in the labor market. 

“The Workforce Investment Act and job creation is about more than just growing the economy. It’s about providing a ladder of opportunity, so that regardless of background, all Americans have a fair chance to get ahead by entering and advancing in 21st century careers.

“Again, I’d like to thank our expert witnesses.  I will introduce you as we go along.”