By Charles Mitchell
The latest jobs report shows the economy looking better than ever. America is back on top of the global competitiveness rankings for the first time in a decade, and, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, we’re enjoying our lowest unemployment rate, 3.7%, since the seventies.
But there’s one big problem: Pennsylvania, Iowa, and several other states have plenty of job openings — but can’t find workers to fill them. Left unaddressed, this shortage of human capital will slow business investment and squander an historic economic opportunity.
Jon DeArment, President of Channellock, Inc., has witnessed firsthand how the “missing workers” crisis undermines American growth. DeArment keeps a close eye on American manufacturing: the iconic Channellock Blue® pliers are made in the U.S.A. from start to finish. The massive American flag adorning their Meadville, Pennsylvania, headquarters speaks of their country-first commitment.
But when it comes to filling jobs, the Keystone State’s oldest and best-known tool manufacturer has hit a wall. “We’ve had over a dozen jobs posted and unfilled since early this year,” DeArment says. “We’re not talking about sharpening pencils here. These are vital roles, all different pay and experience levels, that keep our gears turning.”
DeArment is grateful that tax reform opened opportunities for his workers. Besides competitive pay and perks, Channellock introduced employee education programs like manufacturing certification and robotics training. Still, they’ve struggled to fill numerous crucial positions. Shocking when you consider the hundreds of thousands unemployed in Pennsylvania.
The root of the problem? We pay capable citizens not to work.
Pennsylvania doesn’t require able-bodied Medicaid recipients — healthy adults without disabilities or dependents — to look for work. The same holds true for our food stamp program: most counties sidestep existing work incentives. As a result, nearly 500,000 work-capable adultson welfare report no income.
Meanwhile, Kansas and Maine have already proven that work requirements for food stamps can halt generational poverty and reduce welfare dependency. And over the last five years, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, and North Carolina have passed similar legislation.
But Pennsylvania’s welfare system encourages individuals to settle for less. Our “missing workers” are missing out on the life-changing empowerment of honest work.
Just ask Megan Spaulding of Brockway, Pennsylvania. Spaulding, a single mother, spent years on welfare but decided to train as a medical assistant in 2016. “So much has changed for my family,” she says, after landing a job at a cancer treatment center. “I was always hurting for money at Christmas time. Now I am able to go out and get gifts.”
Work changed Spaulding’s life and her family’s outlook. It would do the same for thousands like her.
That’s why several majority-Republican state legislatures have embraced this concept by introducing work requirement bills for Medicaid recipients. Michigan passed theirs earlier this year, which Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed. And Pennsylvania lawmakers approved a similar reform in October — the second such reform passed in the Keystone State in the last two years.
At the federal level, the House-passed Farm Bill contained broader work incentives for food stamp recipients — a policy backed by the Trump administration.
While momentum is building for welfare reform across the nation, obstacles remain.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed both of Pennsylvania’s work requirement bills. And the latest rumors from Washington indicate food stamp work requirements were dropped from the Farm Bill to garner Senate votes. That would be a huge wasted opportunity.
House members should stand firm on the knowledge that there’s massive public approval for welfare work requirements — 90% of voters support the concept. Voters favor long-term solutions to poverty over simply spending more tax dollars. So should lawmakers.
Promoting work and opportunity in our welfare system is critical to America’s future. To encourage missing workers take advantage of the economic boom, we need to help them move from poverty to independence.
- Mitchell is President and CEO of the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank in Pennsylvania.