5 Actions Congress Should Take to Boost Economic Prosperity in 2018

Published jan. 17, 2018

While the U.S. economy has certainly improved in recent years, far too many people are still without jobs, and too many employers cannot find the skilled workers they need to remain competitive. To sustain economic growth and spread prosperity to more Americans, it is imperative to ensure that everyone attain the skills and credentials they need for career success. Congress can—and must—help.

JFF urges Congress to take five critical policy actions in 2018 to boost economic advancement for all:

1. Protect the Dreamers

Since the Trump administration announced its decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the young people known as “Dreamers” have faced an uncertain future. Roughly 850 DACA beneficiaries lose their jobs and residency protections each week, fearing deportation from the only country they have ever known.

Congress has failed to help so far, though the Dreamers’ positive impact on the economy is more than enough reason to act. About 97 percent of DACA beneficiaries are in school or working. The employed have increased their earnings and boosted tax revenue, while purchasing cars, homes, and other goods and services. Recent estimates predict the negative economic impact of deporting Dreamers will be significant: deducting $460.3 billion from the nation’s GDP over the next 10 years, with the loss of roughly 685,000 workers.

Congress should use this information and act fast to achieve a bipartisan solution, ensuring that Dreamers remain a productive segment of our society.

2. Transform Higher Education

The federal law governing the nation’s postsecondary education system, the Higher Education Act (HEA), needs significant updating to effectively serve today’s students, including youth and adults who are working, supporting families, or trying to forge new careers. Our policies must recognize that many students need alternative, accelerated pathways to credentials with value in the labor market.

The House Education and Workforce Committee’s recently passed PROSPER Act has kick-started a critical conversation about how to modernize postsecondary options, while still protecting students and focusing on outcomes. Congress should update the HEA this year to advance the education and skills development of America’s workforce. See JFF’s  recommendations for transforming the HEA into more effective policy.

3. Make CTE Work for Students

High-quality, industry-aligned career and technical education (CTE) programs are critical and cost-effective in helping students obtain the skills they need to start and advance in high-demand careers. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act provides federal support for CTE, but the law is in need of an update since it was last reauthorized in 2006.

Last June, the House passed the bipartisan Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. This legislation makes significant improvements to current law by supporting CTE efforts that incorporate high-quality programs of study, work-based learning, and college-in-high-school opportunities, while improving alignment with employers.

Now it’s the Senate’s turn. The Senate should move quickly and update the law to ensure its relevance to today’s rapidly changing economy.

4. Rethink How We Tackle Poverty 

To ensure economic advancement for Americans living in poverty, we must help them gain the skills and credentials needed for family-supporting careers. The Trump administration has announced that entitlement reform is a 2018 priority, proposing expansion of work requirements in numerous poverty alleviation programs.

JFF recognizes the value of work and strongly supports the expansion of work-based learning opportunities in poverty alleviation programs. But these opportunities must lead to self-sustaining employment, not just dead-end jobs. The administration and Congress must shift the focus in TANF, SNAP, and other anti-poverty programs to skills development and economic mobility—defining “work” in ways that enable access to high-quality career pathways. This means ending time restrictions on education and training, ensuring ties to in-demand industries, streamlining training delivery across systems, focusing on outcomes, and supporting smooth transitions to self-sufficiency.

JFF has suggestions for additional ways that the administration and Congress can build pathways to self-sufficiency and economic mobility for all.

5. Invest in America’s Greatest Asset 

Consistent and adequate funding for education and workforce development programs is essential for ensuring a highly skilled workforce. This year, the Trump administration is again expected to propose major cuts in domestic discretionary funding. Congress must recognize that the strength of our nation—and certainly its economic prosperity—is dependent on the education and skills of its people.

Congress should provide education and workforce development programs with the funding they need to continue improving the nation’s workforce and boost economic prosperity for all in 2018.


JFF Policy Team members Mary Clagett, Lexi Barrett, Taylor Maag, and Erica Cuevas contributed to this blog.