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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis during a Housing, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing entitled, “Building the Ladder of Opportunity: What’s Working to Make the American Dream a Reality for Middle Class Families.” Senator Murray pushed Secretary Solis to continue working to make sure low-skilled individuals have access to the education and training they need to secure family-wage jobs in the 21st century economy. She also mentioned that critical need to reform and reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act.

“I am concerned about reports about the skills gaps – that small and mid-sized employers are having a hard time finding skilled workers to fill some of the 3 million job openings currently available,” said Senator Patty Murray. “What more can we do to work with small and mid-sized companies – the very companies that tend to be the engine of our economy – to close that gap?”

This was the third in a series of HELP Committee hearings around the economic security of the American middle class. Today’s hearing began to explore what we need to do differently going forward to rebuild our middle class.

See more information on today’s hearing.

Senator Murray’s full remarks follow:

“Secretary Solis, thank you for testifying today on this important topic.  As you know, since the late 1970s income inequality in the United States has increased significantly, while, at the same time, the once-robust middle class has severely deteriorated.  Instead of focusing on the causes, which are certainly important, I want to focus today on what we can do as a government to help hard-working families climb up back into the middle class.  I am particularly interested in making sure low-skilled individuals have access to education and training, and that that education and training lead to skills and credentials with value in the labor market that empower workers to manage their own careers and earn family sustaining wages.

“Reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act is critically important to meeting that goal.  Let me read you a quote from a group of GAO researchers:

“Reauthorizing WIA has never been more urgent than it is today.  Workforce trends and the economic downturn have placed greater demands on the workforce investment system than ever before.  At present, the system is stretched thin.  If we as a nation are to maintain our competitiveness for the higher skilled jobs, we must place more emphasis on training workers to keep their skills current—before they are threatened with layoff; we must develop better linkages with education and employment.  Increasing labor force participation will require improving basic skills levels…and greater involvement of employers and unions in designing education and training opportunities.”  

“I think it is clear that higher skills are correlated with higher wages and attracting good jobs.

“What else should the Federal government be doing to support skill development for workers and the employers who need highly skilled labor?  What new ideas should we be exploring and building into WIA reauthorization and other training policy?

“How can we expand proven approaches, such as on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, sector strategies and registered apprenticeships? 

“Finally, I’m particularly concerned about reports about the skills gaps -- that small and mid-sized employers are having a hard time finding skilled workers to fill some of the 3 million job openings currently available.  What more can we do to work with small and mid-sized companies—the very companies that tend to be the engine of our economy—to close that gap?”