Ranking Member Davis Opening Statement at Human Resources Subcommittee Hearing on Declining Employment among Working-Age Men
(Remarks as prepared)
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing about the continuing decline in working-age men in the labor force. My heart breaks for the people in Texas and Louisiana struggling to recover from Hurricane Harvey, and I look forward to working with you on ways our Subcommittee can help in the recovery, as well.
Although the decline of men in the labor force is partly due to demographic factors such as age and health, I see every day the structural barriers to work that face low-income men in Chicago – especially African American men. In Chicago, the unemployment rate for African American men was 21.7% in 2015, more than triple the national average. In 2014, nearly half of African-American men between age 20 and 24 in Chicago were disconnected from both school and work. The educational opportunity gap is startling in both urban and rural areas. In fact, we are hosting a large event in Chicago this weekend to focus in part about ways to overcome the structural barriers facing African American men.
These men desperately want to work. But they face multiple barriers – like low levels of education and basic skills, health and substance abuse problems, and mental health challenges exacerbated by exposure to violence and trauma – barriers that make work challenging and sometimes impossible. Many men also made mistakes in the past – often due to addiction – and they paid for those mistakes. But when they return to their communities after incarceration determined to do better, they encounter tremendous obstacles to employment. These men need a fair shot, not a scarlet letter.
This hearing presents a chance for us to look for ways to help hard-working men – and women – climb the economic ladder and find good-paying jobs to support themselves and their families. The most powerful incentive to work is the opportunity to get a good job; the most effective work requirement is access to a job that lifts a worker and his or her family out of poverty. Good-paying jobs break the cycle of poverty and recidivism, lifting communities and the overall economy.
To promote economic opportunity, we can strengthen access to education and training to ensure workers have the skills needed to secure good jobs and that they have the right skills to work in the changing economy.
To promote economic opportunity, we can help fathers address the obstacles in their paths. The Affordable Care Act increased access to health care that parents need to address mental, physical, and addiction health issues that can prevent work, and that’s a good start. Newly-revised rules for child support enforcement increase fathers’ ability to provide financially for their children, but we could do far more to help those fathers work. Our federal fatherhood programs help fathers play positive roles in their families, but these grants reach only a small share of those who need them and they should also enhance availability of job training. Further, we need to enact the Family First Prevention Services Act, which would allow us to address family substance abuse challenges and support family members who step up to help, instead of waiting until the only alternative is foster care.
If we shift our policies to address the structural barriers and expand opportunities to supporting these individuals, families, and communities, we can help these men climb the ladder and secure meaningful career pathways to better support their kids and families. I look forward to working together to tackle these structural barriers and promote economic opportunities.