Wilkes-Barre, PA | March 21, 2011 -
In February, the national unemployment rate dropped below 9 percent for the first time in nearly two years. While any sign of improvement in our economy is welcome news, there are still more than 13 million Americans out of work. Here in Pennsylvania, nearly 523,000 workers remain jobless. We have a long way to go if we are to overcome the devastation of the recent recession.
Although our economic recovery remains uncertain, we are encouraged by recent progress and the unbreakable resilience of the American people. Families, workers, and small business owners from Pennsylvania and across the country are leading us out of these tough times. As federal policy makers, understanding the challenges and opportunities facing local communities is critical to ensuring Washington does not stand in the way of growth and prosperity.
Accordingly, on Monday we will gather at Wilkes University to hear from local educators, business leaders, and elected officials. The ideas and experiences shared at this hearing will provide invaluable insight as we work to ensure federal policies promote economic certainty and job creation. Leaders in Washington have a lot to learn from the people they are elected to serve.
One concern on the minds of most Americans is Washington's out of control spending spree. Rising national debt and runaway federal spending creates uncertainty for entrepreneurs, undermines economic confidence, and destroys jobs. The culture of borrowing and spending must end. Now is the time to make tough yet responsible choices to guarantee taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and to reduce the burden placed on the backs of future generations.
A leaner, more accountable federal government, however, will not be enough to foster a strong economy and a bright future for our children. We must also fashion an education system that prepares students and adults to succeed in the workplace.
As members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, we are keenly aware of how closely related education is to the strength of the workforce. A student's success in the classroom will help determine success in the workplace. The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that individuals who fail to advance in their education are more likely to be unemployed and earn lower wages.
For example, in 2009, college graduates earned on average roughly $40,000 more than a high school dropout. Sadly, because of flaws in our education system, only 70 percent of high school students in 2007 received their diploma. According to the nation's report card, 27 percent of eighth-grade students lack basic math skills and 33 percent of fourth graders fall below basic reading levels. And too often students who do graduate from high school lack the skills or knowledge they need to pursue higher education.
After years of growing government intervention in our nation's classrooms and universities, we are not achieving the results students and taxpayers deserve. We need an education system that can adapt to the needs of students, empower parents to protect the interests of their children, and equip individuals with the tools they need succeed in the workplace.
Regardless of these tough times, there is reason to be hopeful. Here in the Commonwealth and throughout the nation, local leaders are stepping up with commonsense ideas to better prepare students and adults for success. We look forward to hearing from some of these local leaders on Monday and working with them to ensure federal policies do not stand in the way of America's path to prosperity.
As published in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader