Congress can — and must — continue to support US workers

During my tenure in Congress, I have seen federal investments in education and training spur economic growth and lower unemployment rates in South Texas. As a result, I am convinced that investing in American workers strengthens our local and national economies. To be sure, while our economy has improved significantly since the Great Recession, we must not abandon the long-term unemployed or American workers who continue to have difficulty accessing good, family-sustaining jobs and careers.

Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which modernizes and improves existing federal workforce development programs, helps workers attain skills for 21st century jobs, provides supports to people with disabilities to enter and remain in competitive, integrated job settings and fosters the modern workforce that evolving American businesses rely on to compete. In addition to winning strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, the bill is supported by a broad array of labor, business, workforce development leaders and disability advocates, as well as governors and mayors from around the country. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act promotes career pathways and utilizes sector strategies for delivering job-training services. These same strategies have had successful outcomes in my congressional district in South Texas and I have no doubt this legislation will be successful across the nation. This bill is designed to help people receive job training and to improve their skills so they can compete in the 21st century global economy.

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In my experience, one of the fastest ways to get our workforce into action is in the area of transportation. America is driving over an aging 1950s-era transportation system. The American Society of Civil Engineers reported that one-third of America’s roads are in “poor or mediocre condition,” and over 150,000 of our bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. A similar study from the Department of Treasury says that traffic congestion costs drivers more than $100 billion annually in wasted fuel and lost time and that the poor conditions of our roads cost the average motorist more than $400 annually in additional vehicle maintenance every year.

In South Texas, the boom in oil and gas production has led to crumbling roads that cannot handle the additional traffic. We need to continue to put forward legislation to make long-term investments in our nation’s aging highway system. Progressive and bold steps are needed just as they were when the president pushed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That legislation provided programs in my district of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas that literally paved the way for highways I-69 and I-2 in our region. Our citizens deserve these investments that create jobs, make our roadways and bridges safer, attract trade and industry and boost our economy.

One of the key issues facing American families and small businesses today that is crucial to spurring our economy and creating jobs is facilitating access to credit. Deep South Texas is a region of the country that is growing extremely quickly and shows much promise to become a burgeoning hub of economic activity in the state. Unfortunately many residents there face hurdles when trying to get access to personal capital. According to a 2014 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the state of Texas has one of the highest unbanked or underbanked rates in the country. This means that many families and businesses lack credit history and therefore cannot get loans to open new businesses, or buy a house. In order to combat this issue and get credit flowing, we must work to expand public-private partnerships, advocate for more public funding to improve the area’s infrastructure, and work with our educational institutions to educate residents across our nation on the importance of financial literacy, saving for their future and having good credit, so that they can in turn invest in a mortgage or create a small business, which will spur economic growth and job opportunities for others.

As we approach the 114th Congress, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in creating jobs and supporting education and job training that leads to jobs and careers in high-growth sectors of the economy, such as healthcare, information technology, advanced manufacturing, energy and infrastructure. Congress can and must continue to support American workers by creating jobs and promoting career pathways that equip them with the 21st century skills needed to succeed in a globally competitive world.  

Hinojosa has represented Texas’s 15th Congressional District since 1997. He is the ranking member on the Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. He also sits on the Financial Services Committee.