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US Conference of Mayors Calls for Action From Congress on Jobs Bills: A Citizen's Perspective

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On Monday, September 24th, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) held a press conference in Dallas, Texas to share their innovative plans to stimulate the economy and address workforce development issues. In the face of Congress's repeated refusal to pass a jobs bill during a time of economic recovery, USCM leaders from across the nation also issued a strong appeal to Congress to effectively and efficiently address their growing concerns about the negative impact Congressional inaction continues to have on tax paying families and the economy. I was there to report back to you, my fellow 99%ers.

Central to this debate was a report released by USCM prepared by IHS Global Insight, which identifies specific high-growth employment sectors that are projected to help job growth increase by 8.6%, as well as add 11.5 million jobs to the economy over the next 5 years.

"America is facing what amounts to a national crisis in workforce development," said USCM President and Mayor of Philadeliphia Michael Nutter.

"Job growth exists, but Congress has stalled on reforms and cut funding to programs that ensure our job skills training programs effectively prepare workers to meet the rapidly evolving demands of the workforce. Congress needs to do their job and work together to allocate federal funding and implement reforms to ensure that on the local level we can support programs that ensure our workers in our communities have the training and skills to fill those new positions."

Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento also illustrated USCM's concerns about meeting the newly released report's projected growing demand for skilled workers. "The days when your father's high school wood shop class was considered effective vocational training for graduates entering the workforce are gone, yet federally funded training programs have not kept pace with the demands of employers who require advanced technical skills for entry level workers, " said Mayor Cabaldon. Cabaldon pointed out that while high school graduates may be trained to read and write essays on Shakespeare, "they lack the training to write the types of reports that an employer would find useful in the workforce."

Several prominent mayors from major metropolitan areas also expressed their concerns that Congress is "out of touch" with the majority of voters whose most essential are served most directly by local government. This included the Mayor Frank Ortis of Pembroke Pines, Florida who is the current chair of the USCM's Jobs, Education and the Workforce Standing Committee, as well as Mike Rawlings of Dallas, Texas, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Black of Baltimore, Maryland, Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacremento, California, Mayor Anthony Foxx of Charlotte, North Carolina, Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, California, Mayor Elizabeth Kautz of Burnsville, Minnesota, and Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City, Utah (among others.)

"Dallas's job growth rate over the next five years is expected to be 12.8%, but these positive developments are occurring despite Congress, not because of anything going on in Washington," said Mayor Rawlings. "Mayors have not stood by waiting idly for Congress to act, we can't afford to on the local level where annual budgets must be passed and essential services like trash collection must be provided to the families in our communities. Workers need to be trained, and so we have partnered with private industry and corporations like Seimens and Bank of America to carry out these objectives while Congress has failed to act. Congress should be working with us on similar private public initiatives."

Mayor Rawlings discussed in his presentation the fact that in a recent study, respondents identified the #1 most important thing in their life as their jobs. Not their family, not healthcare, not abortion, but their jobs. Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, AZ also made the important point during a press conference that there is a misconception that today's job training programs are exclusively for poor, unskilled workers with minimal education and literacy skills. "We are talking about training all levels of workers and changing the way the educational system teaches workers and employers to create meaningful, fulfilling employment experiences."

After President Nutter had left the final meeting, Mayor Jim Schmitt of Green Bay, Wisconsin expressed his concerns about the confrontational approach that USCM had chosen to use at the press conference. A friend of notorious antilabor union buster Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Mayor Schmitt stated that while he did not necessarily disagree with USCM's determination that there is an imminent need for modernization of workforce development programs, a more friendly, collaborative approach might be needed in light of the fact that Congress "has a lot of money."

However, Fred Dedrick, executive director for the Boston-based National Fund for Workforce Solutions who spends a lot of time on the ground building effective regional collaboratives points out that "workforce development is economic development." Dedrick also says Congress has repeatedly rejected what many think are viable solutions in failing to approve reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA.) Up for reauthorization in 2003, WIA was enacted for the purpose of replacing the Job Training Partnership Act and certain other Federal job training law with new workforce investment systems (or workforce development,) consolidating redundant programs, and creating more private and public sector partnerships. With growing pressure on all municipal leaders to provide training services to meet workforce demands, Republican leaders such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) have justified their votes to consistently kill jobs bills such as WIA and more recently the Veterans Jobs Corps bill last week on the grounds that "We need to make sure the job training programs we have are working, and they're not."

Despite the in partisan infighting displayed by Congress during votes over federal jobs legislation, there was a general consensus at USCM that Romey's probable defeat at the polls in November had not impaired local leader's ability to work together on the issues.

"When campaign season is over, Republican and Democratic leaders need to come together have a serious discussion in Congress about job training and growth," says Mayor Nutter. USCM leadership also expressed that their intention to initiate some of that discussion on October 3rd in Denver, where they will be hosting the presidential debate.

Citizen's Perspective

Perhaps 2-5 years of job training was all you needed in classical Roman times when the average life expectancy was 28 years old, and technology and workforce demands remained constant during that time. But in 2012, even your phone is obsolete within 2 years, and this means that in order to stay competitive in the global economy, American public schools need to start training the next generation of K-12 students to innovate skills sets their teachers can't imagine in order to obtain the job that has not yet been created building the next phone that doesn't yet exist.

Gone are the days when your mom graduated high school and chose between purchasing college and entering the workforce. The reason why we need Congress to fund high school career academies like Charlotte's Central Piedmont Community College, Dallas's Regional Workforce Leadership Council, and those provided by the University of Northern Texas is that a college education is so expensive that we need these skills earlier so that we can work and go to school. Even college diploma and a graduate degree, I am expected to consistently innovate my own job and reinvent my career so that I continue to spend the vast majority of my day doing meaningful, lucrative work that I love. That flexibility must be learned.

For 8 years now, Congress has essentially absconded with my tax dollars where job training programs are concerned. If Congress does not act to approve funding for job programs, this means that small businesses will be excluded from job innovation training. While corporate sponsorship of job training is necessary, some of these corporations are responsible for destroying our economy to begin with. I'm wary about what they are training the next generation to do.

Another discussion we need to have is about the disparate lack of job training opportunities available for women. For instance, over 90% of welfare recipients are single mothers, yet Congress has approved bills excluding women from participation in nearly $5 billion in "welfare to work" funding for "Responsible Fatherhood" job training programs meant for childless fathers. Riddled with fraud and waste, Responsible Fatherhood programs are non-needs based programs that are redundantly administered through the US Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor. Instead of diverting TANF funding to men's rights extremists of all socioeconomic backgrounds, perhaps a gender neutral approach that values children would be more effective in reducing poverty through workforce participation opportunities.

While the City of Green Bay's voters may be content to idle by while leaders schmooze, I'm not. There is a reason why the public's approval of the job Congress is doing has diminished to 11%, and that's because we have stood by playing nice and don't effectively hold them accountable for the job loss, death, and destruction their inaction has caused our families. Our families can no longer afford to rely exclusively upon mud slinging, smokey back room deals between cronies, and a camera less Supreme Court that is closed to the public's scrutiny and riddled with possible conflicts of interest to get the job done in Congress. Constructive conflict and debate is an important component of a functioning Democracy, but Congress could stand to take a lesson from USCM leaders who were unwilling to stand by while we lose our homes, our families, and our jobs.

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