Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina described a "devastating" economic outlook for the country if Washington can't find a way to connect poor Americans to more than 4 million open jobs.
The answer isn't the kind of quick fix that lawmakers focus on, Scott said Tuesday at a National Journal Next America event sponsored by Wells Fargo. Reducing poverty and enlarging the American economy will take a long-term investment to prepare teenagers for the kind of high-skilled work that is high demand.
Tim Scott Fails High School, Gives Thanks to His Mom, and Thinks His Way Out of Poverty
"Unemployment is a symptom; education is the problem," said Scott, a conservative who was elected to the Senate in 2012. "We need to try to create lifelong learners."
By 2030, ethnic minorities are expected to make up most of the net growth in the U.S. labor force. However, only 14 percent of Latinos and 19 percent of African-Americans older than 25 have a college degree, according to 2012 Census Bureau figures. African-Americans who have only high school diplomas are twice as likely to be unemployed than those who graduate from college.
These statistics show that the U.S. economy increasingly needs an educated workforce, Scott said.
Earlier this year, he introduced legislation aimed at expanding apprenticeships for well-paying jobs. He worked with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey—the only other African-American lawmaker in the Senate—to craft the Leveraging and Energizing America's Apprenticeship Programs, which would award federal tax credits to companies that hire registered apprentices.
These apprenticeships will help close the skills gap that is expected to lead to a shortage of 3 million workers in the next few years, Scott said.
The lawmaker credited small-business owners with teaching him the value of entrepreneurship as a way to escape poverty in North Charleston. Their support inspired him to go to college and open his own insurance business, he said. These kind of partnerships will do the same for others, he said.
"We have to carpe diem—seize the opportunity," Scott said. "In the global economy, the competition is amazing and it's getting stronger day by day."
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