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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Developing a Skilled Workforce for a Competitive Economy: Reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act”

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“Today’s hearing will address a very important topic – how federal policy can better support a skilled workforce through the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act.

“I am pleased to be joined today by Senators Murray and Isakson who have been tireless champions of reauthorizing this bill. They have been working closely together this Congress, as they have before, to find a path forward on reauthorization - a goal we all share. I want to thank them and their staff for their hard work on this important bill, and I look forward to continuing to work with them in the coming weeks as the Committee considers reauthorization.

“I also want to thank Senator Alexander for his partnership with me and my staff to update the Rehabilitation Act as part of the Committee’s work on the Workforce Investment Act. We share a commitment to helping individuals with disabilities achieve success in the labor market, and to improving outcomes for transition-age youth with disabilities. I am pleased to work with him in this effort and look forward to a product we can both be proud of.

“While the country continues to recover from one of the worst recessions in our history, we know that everyone hasn’t recovered at the same rate. Workers without postsecondary education or training have a harder time finding work than their counterparts who have that experience or a postsecondary credential. Those without a high school diploma face the harsh reality of an unemployment rate of 11 percent, while, the current unemployment rate for those with a college degree is 3.4 percent - far below the national rate of 7.6 percent.

“At the same time, the demand for postsecondary credentials is growing.  A Georgetown University report tells us the nation will need 22 million new college degrees by 2018 but that we will fall short by 3 million postsecondary credentials and 4.7 million postsecondary certificates. It is clear that we need to work together to do all we can to help America’s workers gain the skills they need to be successful in the labor market.

“Individuals with disabilities continue to face multiple barriers to employment.  Of the over 15 million adults with disabilities of working age, less than one third are participating in the labor force.  The numbers are even lower for individuals with significant disabilities.  And too often, individuals with disabilities are working in segregated settings at less than minimum wage, rather working in competitive integrated employment.  Some of the biggest barriers to success in the labor market for people with significant disabilities can be low expectations and discriminatory attitudes.  As we work on the reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act in conjunction with WIA reauthorization, we have sought to make changes to Vocational Rehabilitation that set high expectations for all people with disabilities by strengthening VR’s emphasis on competitive, integrated employment and prioritizing services for young people with disabilities as they enter the workforce for the first time.

“Most decisions about how best to meet the needs of the workforce 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, while ensuring that the most vulnerable get the services they need.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about what works in the current system and what needs to be improved.”