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Message to the New Congress: Make Bold Bets on America’s Workers and Learners

January 3, 2019

By Lexi Barrett

As members of the 116th Congress are sworn in this week, they are grappling with many challenges, especially involving those Americans who are unemployed or underemployed.

Despite strong economic indicators in recent years, too many workers haven’t seen the benefits of a growing economy. Many haven’t seen increases in their paychecks for years. Good jobs remain elusive for unskilled workers, and the skills workers have may not match what employers are looking for.  

College is more important—and much more expensive—than ever. Given their experience in this economy, and the recession of 2008, it is no surprise that most Americans worry that their children will be worse off financially than they are. And with economists starting to raise alarms about troubling economic developments recently, the next two years represent a critical time for our nation. 

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There isn’t time to wait for a smoother political environment or easier time for change.

The new Congress will be divided by political party and ideology, but we have confidence that unity can be found in a common goal of driving economic opportunity and advancement for all Americans. This includes providing timely funding for the federal government’s most critical services—such as public housing, environmental protection, and tax collection and filing services—so that the lives and economic advancement of families and communities are not stalled.   

There isn’t time to wait for a smoother political environment or easier time for change. Certainly, the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet or worrying about their children’s futures can’t afford to wait. Congress must make bold bets on America’s workers and learners now to build a future that works for us all.

And there is reason for hope. As we noted in our blog following the 2018 midterm elections, a divided government can still produce significant policy achievements in the areas of workforce development and education. Developing our nation’s talent—whether today’s talent or tomorrow’s—has consistently brought political adversaries together around a common cause. We urge Congress to find that common cause in our current national struggles and pursue the policy change that this moment necessitates.

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Over the next several weeks, the JFF policy team will lay out a roadmap for what steps Congress can take to create policies that promote economic opportunity and advancement through changes to our nation’s education, workforce development, and poverty alleviation programs. 

We’ll present ideas for how Congress can:

  • Reimagine our nation’s higher education system to spur the development of innovative and evidence-based strategies so that more Americans can access, afford, and attain postsecondary credentials and skills.
  • Rethink workforce development systems so all Americans can access the skills that are needed today and in the future of work.
  • Reform poverty alleviation programs to holistically serve beneficiaries and reduce barriers while increasing opportunities for skill development.

We look forward to working with Congress over the next two years to refine and advance this agenda for America’s workers and learners. 

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