Congressman Brady: Workforce Shortages Threaten Sustainable Growth; Need Training Programs, Immigration & Welfare Reform
At a recent Economic Outlook Conference held in The Woodlands, Texas and themed around “the pathway to sustainable growth,” Republican Representative Kevin Brady (TX-08) called in to comment on the current and future state of the US and Texas economies. He celebrated recent economic successes that followed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, but warned that the US will need to grow its workforce and improve international trade agreements in order to foster sustainable economic growth.
“If you compare where we are today versus where the experts thought we would be, everything is significantly better on economic growth, on unemployment, which is at historical levels, new investment by our business community, new investment coming back, streaming back into the US for the first time in an awful long time. Wages and paychecks are growing at the highest rate in eleven years,” he said proudly. However, he also warned of his worries that the economy’s trajectory won’t continue to go up unless the US acts to increase two things: its workers and customers.
Brady explained that although it is a good thing that unemployment is historically low, workforce shortages all around the US are now stunting economic growth. “I think the good news is…we’ve gone through a major transformation which is going from a country asking every month ‘Where are the jobs?’ to today we are asking ‘Where are the workers?’ In every part of the country, every type of business seems to be starved for workers that can allow them to grow, and a lot of good projects and a lot of growth is being laid on the table because we don’t have the workforce we need,” he explained.
“I am convinced if you ask the question, ‘How do we build a sustainable economy for the US?’ the number one economic issue facing the country is workers and our workforce,” he added.
“You have great opportunities today because the economy, but our economy is being held back because we don’t have the size of workforce and we don’t have the match of skills of workforce. And it’s not just here in The Woodlands and Montgomery County, because I travel the country; it is everywhere, and it is holding our economy back. Even more so, it will hold our economy back in the future in even more harmful ways,” he continued.
“Every expert who has taken a look at the new tax code, the new balance of regulation to our economy, predicts the same thing: higher growth in the US, more investment coming back to the United States, more plants, research, patents located in America rather than overseas. That’s all great news, but they also say this; they believe economic growth in the US will slow in the future years seven, eight, nine, and beyond because we simply don’t have the mix of workers or the supply of workers that we need to grow,” he warned.
The solution to economically disadvantageous workforce shortages, Brady explained, needs to be an “all of the above” type strategy including workforce training programs, immigration reform, and welfare reform.
“One, we need to dramatically scale up all those workforce training programs we have today,” he said of both public and private educational and skills training programs. “We’ll have to scale that up five, ten-fold, here and across the country if we are going to create the workforce we need for the future. Even that won’t be enough,” he said.
An additional part of “all of the above” workforce improvement strategy has to be immigration policy, Brady explained. “We have to get that right so that while we train up the workers here in the United States, we also look for workers who come into the United States to grow our economy as well. A lot of our companies…have to compete against the world. Well they need to be able to recruit from the best among the world as well to be able to win and keep those jobs here,” he said.
Brady also added that immigration reform should focus on bringing in skilled workers that meet the dynamic workforce needs of the US economy. “We’ve got to get an immigration policy that really encourages those with skills we need, that can help grow our US economy…So, we really should transform from an immigration system that says, ‘Who do you know?’ to, ‘What skills can you bring to build the US in the future,’” he explained.
Thirdly, Brady explained that welfare reform is needed to address workforce shortages. “We’ve got several million people stranded on the sidelines that I think can go to the frontlines of employment, that can be excellent workers here both in our community and the country as well."
"The Ways and Means Committee, when I led it last year, passed the first welfare reform in twenty-two years. We are working with Democrat colleagues on committee to find a way forward so that we can really both together draw people into the workforce, not to just get a job for a couple weeks but actually get a job and keep a job, which gives them an opportunity they don’t have but gives our businesses and our economy opportunities as well,” he said.
Behind workforce shortages, Brady added that the second most important challenge that our economy will face in the coming years is increasing the customers of US goods from around the world. He explained that acquiring more international customers will require increasing trade and favorable trade deals.
One trade agreement he plans on focusing on is the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “The House Ways and Means Committee that I lead for the Republicans will begin the hard work of laying the foundation and gaining the folks for what we hope will be a bipartisan approval of the new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada this year. It is really key for the country but even more important for our region because it has new provisions that really lock in," he explained. "They’re big wins for energy, for services, for agriculture, for digital trade, for telecommunications, and manufacturing. A lot of the areas that we are very good as a state and region are opening up opportunities both in Mexico and Canada. It is not a perfect agreement but there’s areas that I’d like to improve and I’m working with the White House to do that. But this is an area, this is an agreement that Democrats and Republicans need to work together on to deliver it and get it into law this year."
Brady also added the importance of a trade deal with China and what it could do for the Texas and US economies. “The other area of trade is that the president has really challenged China in their practices where they cheat too much around the world and cost us and America tens of thousands of jobs each year, which really hampers our ability to sell there."
"If you look at the trade negotiations that are currently led by the new Trump Administration – China, Japan, Europe, and then of course Mexico and Canada – these are where the customers are at and over two-thirds of the potential sales of 'Made in Texas' and 'Made in America' products are in those negotiations," he expanded. "And so, I really believe that if the White House focuses on finishing and delivering on those negotiations with those countries, we have dramatically opened up the market for new customers for our Texas products and services and US products and services as well."