Roger Wicker

ROGER WICKER

Americans have much to celebrate in today’s economy. Our country continues its longest economic expansion in history. Unemployment is at or near 50-year lows, particularly for women, African Americans, and Hispanics. Wages – especially wages for service workers and younger employees – continue to rise. Pro-growth policies like tax cuts and regulatory reform are opening doors of opportunity.

With more than 7.3 million jobs currently open in the United States, there is plenty of room for more people to cross the threshold and find meaningful work. I am engaging with my colleagues to ensure that we keep on growing and that everyone who is able to contribute to our country’s economic progress does so.

New skills and new jobs

Many of those job vacancies exist because of a skills gap between our workforce’s education and the needs of the modern economy. Apprenticeship programs have a proven track record of providing the on-the-job training needed to fill this gap. Graduating apprentices see a 90 percent job placement rate, almost always with less debt than a two- or four-year college program would require.

Timelier processing of applications is needed to get more people the training these jobs require. I have supported apprenticeship programs since my time in the House, when I introduced the Apprenticeship Enhancement Act to streamline the approval process for new programs. I recently wrote to the Department of Labor in support of a proposed rule that would provide more flexibility to recognize apprenticeship programs covering new skills. The current process takes too long, and a new pathway would increase the chances for enrollees to “earn as they learn” in programs designed for the 21st century’s labor force.

Private organizations are also doing their part to equip our citizens to succeed in the new economy. I recently joined a “Grow with Google” event in Clinton, Mississippi, where coaches from the company taught professional and digital skills to nearly 100 jobseekers. These kinds of events strengthen Americans’ skill sets.

While closing the skill gaps will help people fill vacancies, some regions need new cash investments to create jobs. I am the lead Senate sponsor of the Rural Jobs Act, which would expand the New Market Tax Credit (NMTC) Program and target it to areas with high migration and persistent poverty. The NMTC has generated $1 billion of rural investments and hundreds of thousands of jobs in the last two years by incentivizing businesses to use their capital in areas that need it most. This bill would tap the potential of rural Americans and allow them to find opportunities closer to home.

Why work matters

Getting more able-bodied Americans to work will build on the economic progress we have already made. It will also allow more of our fellow citizens to support themselves, their families, and their communities.

A good job is about more than a paycheck. Honoring the contributions of each and every worker, regardless of station or background, is a truly American thing to do. With better policies and a stronger private sector, there will be more to celebrate in years to come.

ROGER WICKER is a U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Readers can contact him at 330 W. Jefferson St., Tupelo, MS 38803 or call (662) 844-5010.

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