Davis Opening Statement at Human Resources Subcommittee Hearing on Jobs and Opportunity: Employer Perspectives on the Jobs Gap
April 25, 2018
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. I have appreciated your willingness to hear from a range of voices, including returning citizens who are often left behind by the economy and left out of our conversations. I also hope we will have the opportunity to hear testimony in response to specific potential policy changes. We need ample feedback from the people who are successfully lifting up families in our communities to ensure that any policy changes we consider will help more Americans get good jobs and not bring added hardship on struggling families.
Thurgood Marshall correctly observed that none of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody - a parent, a teacher, a family or political connection, a nun or other faith-inspired person, or program - helped us pick up our boots.
More than three-fourths of unemployed Illinois residents live in the Chicago area. In my congressional district, the unemployment rate is over 9 percent and more than a fourth of families with children live in poverty. In Illinois, the black unemployment rate is twice the overall state unemployment rate, and at least 43 percent of black men aged 20 to 24 in Chicago are neither employed nor in school.
I share your desire to connect people with jobs so they can lift themselves and their families out of poverty. But I remain concerned by the rhetoric we’re hearing in Washington suggesting that helping people with barriers to employment who live in communities with few resources and who lack connections is some form of offensive “welfare” that merits cutting or attaching humiliating conditions. We should not be cutting off food, housing, and healthcare for people who aren’t working. We should be knocking down the barriers that are keeping them from getting good jobs, and supporting them – just as people supported us – in achieving their goals.
I’m looking forward to hearing from our witnesses today. I want us to think not just about the good they are doing, but also what we can learn from them about what works, and how we can apply those lessons to programs we oversee, like the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, the Fatherhood grants, and Child Support Enforcement.
We know that low-income fathers are among those who encounter multiple barriers to good jobs, and we know that state TANF programs are generally not assisting them, and child support enforcement programs are sending them a bill but not helping them get a job to pay it.
We know that the mothers served by TANF are encountering barriers to education and training that were created by Congress and keep them from getting good jobs. And we know that many families are struggling just to get the basics – food on the table, a roof over their heads, treatment for serious health conditions – and there’s no point in trying to find them jobs until they have those basic necessities.
There are many good things happening in communities across the country, but they’re not available to everyone who needs them. TANF is supposed to help parents work. But, what is clear from witness testimonies from this and past hearings is that TANF is not conducting quality workforce development with the array of services needed to support workers with multiple barriers.
We should take these lessons about what works and apply them to create widely-available opportunities for parents to succeed. Helping our citizens address these barriers and obtain quality, good-paying jobs benefits our communities, our nation, and our economy.