We have to lay the groundwork for American workers to thrive in a changing economy
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The roadmap for a new American economy does not exist in the past, with old industries and ways of thinking – it must be created now, by us. While our economy continues to recover, many of our friends, neighbors, and family members continue to be confronted by a lack of jobs, wage stagnation, or continued layoffs. Our economy is broken everywhere. The system no longer works for the American worker.

These current hardships combined with continued globalization and the rise of automation will threaten and cause job loss for many Americans. Millions of Americans could have their livelihoods significantly altered and face considerable economic challenges. To head off this looming catastrophe, we need to educate our children to succeed in this changing economy, and create programs that support workers once again. That is why I am introducing the WORKER Act.

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The WORKER Act addresses the rise of automation and technological advancements by supporting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at all levels beginning with the education of our students. Our children need to be equipped with 21st century skills if they hope to compete in the global economy. The WORKER Act will award grants to support, develop, and implement engineering education programs in elementary and secondary schools so that students are exposed to a wide range of possibilities in STEM at a young age. Additionally, this legislation encourages increased representation of women and minorities in STEM occupations.

The second goal of the legislation is focused on promoting apprenticeship training, retraining, and advancing the current American workforce. Unfortunately, 69 percent of respondents recognized the need to prepare for new careers by updating their skills, yet only 19 percent enrolled in a training program while unemployed. Too many unemployed and underemployed Americans struggle with how they will pay to gain the necessary skills for employment.

The bill expands apprenticeships by promoting public-private partnerships to encourage industry growth, competitiveness, and collaboration to improve worker training, retention, and advancement in targeted infrastructure clusters. It also creates a training voucher for $8,000 to ensure every American can attend a short-term training program to receive the skills necessary to stay competitive. 

As we continue to assist men and women entering the workforce, we must also incentivize reemployment by creating a bonus for individuals currently receiving unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, even if workers are lucky enough to find new jobs, depressed wages have become the new norm. 

Studies have shown that for men aged 50-61, median hourly wages for individuals in new employment were 20 percent lower than the median wage of their previous job. The Act will help older workers receive a portion of their difference in wages to help smooth the earnings transition. Eligible workers age 50 or older (age 45 in distressed communities) who obtain new, full-time employment at wages of less than $50,000 may receive wage insurance for up to two years to partially offset earnings losses.

All these programs will give workers a better shot at living a fulfilling life – for themselves and their families. However, as we respond to the challenge of globalization we must also acknowledge that the rise of automation, robots, and artificial intelligence have the potential to grow the economy and create new opportunities for society that many of us cannot even imagine. Too often those jobs are only found in Silicon Valley or New York City. The Worker Act strives to decentralize those technological opportunities and create jobs and provide capital investment to communities throughout the country, like Youngstown and Akron, who are eager and able to support the expansion of the tech industry and high-growth sectors.

The WORKER Act would create the Distressed Community Investment Agency. This agency would have the mission of promoting, establishing, and strengthening venture capital investment in distressed communities through expenses of grants, contracts, and other agreements with public and private entities.

For being the wealthiest nation on earth, too many Americans are struggling with the realities of everyday life—paying their bills, caring for their family, putting food on the table, and keeping a roof over their head. The future of our economy, and of the American Dream, rests in our ability to alleviate this struggle by innovating and creating new, good-paying jobs where they are needed most. We can’t do that by tinkering around the edges or sticking to the status quo. We need bold initiatives to overhaul our economy. The WORKER Act lays the foundation for current and future generations of American workers to succeed in a rapidly changing economy.

Ryan represents Ohio's 13th District and is co-chairman of the Congressional Manufacturing Caucus.