Cheryl A. Oldham
Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Jenna Shrove
Senior Director of Strategic Advocacy and Advisor to the Chief Policy Officer

Published

December 13, 2022

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The “Calling on Congress” series is highlighting priorities that can and must be addressed in the 118th Congress. One urgent priority is easing the worker shortage crisis and ensuring we have a competitive workforce for the future.

Right now, there are too many open jobs without people to fill them. We have double the number of open jobs in the U.S. than unemployed workers. The result is that too many businesses can’t grow, compete, and thrive. Despite predictions of gridlock, the U.S. Chamber believes the 118th Congress can rise to meet this moment and enact solutions.

Fixing the Worker Shortage

Labor force participation remains below pre-pandemic levels, meaning we have over 3 million fewer Americans working today compared to February of 2020. There are number of different factors causing this gap: lack of access to childcare, an increase in savings during the pandemic, early retirements, declining legal immigration, a spike in new business starts and flexible work options, and COVID-19 health concerns.

We need to get people off the sidelines by removing barriers to work. This includes expanding access to childcare, promoting second-chance hiring, enacting policies that incentivize work, and increasing legal immigration. Congress should focus on:

Increasing legal immigration while securing the border

Fewer legal immigrants coming to the U.S. means that critical sources of talent for American businesses are drying up, contributing to the significant workforce problems companies are currently facing. We need to enact a rational legal immigration policy that welcomes global talent while securing our borders.

We are calling on Congress to enact bipartisan legislation to secure the border and double the cap on employment-based immigrant visas, double the quotas on H-1B and H-2B visas, and make other critical reforms to these vital programs.

Removing barriers for working parents

Childcare continues to be a leading obstacle for reentering the workforce. According to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study, 58% of working parents reported leaving work because they were unable to find childcare solutions that met their needs.

We need to improve access to affordable, quality childcare to support the working parents who have been forced to put their careers on hold to care for their children. Here are a few things Congress can do to help:

  • increase funding and expand eligibility for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program,
  • give states more flexibility to spend childcare funds,
  • reinstate the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (CDCTC) expansion, and
  • simplify and expand employer tax breaks that help employees access childcare.

Enacting policies that incentivize work

A flawed government benefits framework is another factor keeping Americans on the sidelines of the labor force. A proper social net should encourage and enable labor market entry, financial stability, and economic mobility. Too many of today’s safety net programs lack meaningful work requirements for able-bodied adults. In addition, steep benefit cliffs discourage labor market participation and promotion. 

Changing the current framework would allow employers to fill open jobs and maximize productivity while also ensuring beneficiaries can reach self-sufficiency, build assets, and increase net worth. Policy changes that help achieve this balance include clear work requirements, changes in the phase out of benefits, and implementing  transitional benefits.

Skilling a Competitive Workforce

Simply growing the workforce is not enough. We also need to ensure those looking for work have the skills and training for the jobs businesses need to fill. We need a system that develops the talent companies and communities need and ensures Americans are educated and have the skills required for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Congress should start with:

Supporting education and training programs

We must expand access to programs that lead to good jobs—including short-term credentials, upskilling, boot camps, and earn and learn programs like apprenticeships.

Congress should allow Pell grants to be used for short-term training programs, expand eligible training provider lists under WIOA so more innovative programs are included, and make changes to the registered apprenticeship program to be more inclusive of a variety of earn and learn programs.

To help end the bias toward higher education being the only pathway to success, government should work with the private sector to develop new and innovative financing mechanisms, like skill savings accounts, to invest in the economy’s most important resource—human capital.

Fixing the K-12 education system

K-12 students today make up the workforce of tomorrow and it is crucial that we are adequately preparing them. Learning loss and K-12 education shortcomings existed long before the pandemic—and the pandemic only accelerated this steady decline in achievement, erasing two decades of progress in math and reading scores in just two years.

The US. Chamber Foundation this year launched a working group to develop policy recommendations to improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) focused on all students, especially those who have been historically underserved by the system.

Driving Workforce Solutions: America Works Initiative

Through the America Works Initiative, the U.S. Chamber and U.S. Chamber Foundation are mobilizing government to address the labor shortage and helping employers across the country develop and discover talent to fill open jobs and grow our economy.

About the authors

Cheryl A. Oldham

Cheryl A. Oldham

Vice President of Education Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senior Vice President of Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Cheryl A. Oldham is vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is also senior vice president of the education and workforce program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

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Jenna Shrove

Jenna Shrove

Senior Director of Strategic Advocacy and Advisor to the Chief Policy Officer

Jenna Shrove is a Senior Director of Strategic Advocacy and Advisor to the Chief Policy Officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Read more