Rebuild The Middle Class With Jobs For Veterans

Terrance Heath

There’s one thing I forgot to mention in my previous post, “10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class”: We already know how to rebuild the middle class. We’ve done it before. One way we built the middle class was to “Give unemployed job seekers a real, fresh start,” which is one of the ten steps in the report, “10 Ways To Rebuild The Middle Class For Hardworking Americans.” Back then, those unemployed job seekers happened to be in uniform, and America gave them a real fresh start with something called the GI Bill.

Today, a chance to give unemployed veterans a real, fresh start is stalled out in the Senate and going nowhere in the House.

The Veterans Job Corps bill was held up in the Senate late Wednesday night after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filibustered to gain support for the release of a Pakistani doctor who helped locate Osama bin Laden.

The bill, which has bi-partisan support, would create a veterans jobs training program, costing $1 billion over five years.

“A vet job bill – does that deserve a fight?” Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked after a Senate roll call.

“I think my friend from Kentucky should have run for Secretary of State rather than the Senate,” Reid said.

Republican senators were using the Veterans Job Corps Act, backed by President Barack Obama, to play party politics in an election year, Reid said repeating his often-stated assertion that Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) only goal is “to defeat President Obama.”

“Everything has stopped, everything,” Reid said. “We have been able to push through a few things but not many. Couldn’t we just agree on veterans?”

Obviously not. On one hand, there’s a jobs bill in the Senate that would create a job training program for veterans, at a cost of $5 billion over five years. In fact, it would help veterans and the communities they return to, by hiring veterans in to the civilian workforce as police officers and fire figthers. By the way, it doesn’t increase the deficit, and is entirely funded by collecting unpaid taxes from Medicare providers.

On the other hand, according to a report by Demos, our returning veterans are having a harder time finding jobs when they come home, and have lower wages. In fact, veterans unemployment rate is more than double that of their civilian peers.

As veteran activist Paul Rieckhoff wrote earlier this summer, putting veterans to work is a smart investment.

For one, hiring veterans isn’t charity. It’s an investment and smart business. Veterans can help fill the huge skills gap in America that is hindering our recovery and undermining our global competitiveness. The Department of Defense spends millions and millions of dollars training our forces, and it is a lost investment if we don’t re-purpose those skills for the private sector. In President Obama’s own words, we have trained these folks to nation-build abroad. Now, we need them to nation-build here at home.

When World War II ended, America’s workforce, and the manufacturing sector in particular, was infused with millions of talented veterans, and our economy thrived. With over one million service members leaving active-duty over the next five years, we have another opportunity to steer veterans to growth sectors like energy, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure, where there are massive demands for skilled workers.

Yet, Republicans have answered with more obstruction. House Republicans have blocked at least 15 jobs bills Reid says that Republicans have mounted 380 filibusters since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006. This veteran’s jobs bill has languished in Congress since February of this year.’

Given that this veteran’s jobs bill is small part of President Obama’s American Jobs Act, and that Senate and House Republicans have made it their sole purpose to deny the president second term, it’s no surprise that Senate Republicans would block this bill to help put our unemployed veterans back to work in their own communities.

Let’s be honest. Hiring unemployed veterans isn’t going to singlehandedly lift the economy. But it’s a step in the right direction. If you want a real economic recovery, you need a strong middle class. If you want to build a strong middle class, this is one way to do it.

Clearly, the GOP agenda includes none of the above.

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