My great-grandfather, like so many of his day who wanted a well-paying job and a better future, turned to industry.  He did not have a college degree or extensive technical training just a high school diploma. He walked into an interview after reading a manual for an industrial lathe the night before, and he left with a job he held for over 40 years – a job that allowed him to put five children through college and enter America’s middle class.

Stories like his are now rare.  We live in a world in which obtaining the kind of skill and wage-enhancing employment my great-grandfather secured requires stratospheric levels of qualification. Industries that were once the hallmark of American prosperity now lay dormant. For millions of American families – including many in Delaware County and Philadelphia – structural economic change and an education system in need of reform pose significant barriers to the kind of opportunity enjoyed by the generations that came before.

Even before the pandemic, working- and middle-class Americans struggled to get and stay ahead.  Coupled with covid disruptions and shutdowns, they are now fighting for their lives. They are weathering inflation, small business closures, squeezed supply chains, and children now years behind where they should be academically. If we ever needed to deliver results for the people, now is the time.

What America needs is a Working Families and Middle-Class Re-empowerment Act. Unfortunately, we got Build Back Better (BBB) – which has very little to offer struggling workers and families.

In total, BBB allocates only $44 billion out of nearly $2 trillion for programs that deal directly with our economy and workforce. It contains only $5 billion for small businesses and entrepreneurs nationwide, after nearly 33% of small businesses folded in Pennsylvania due to Covid-related closures alone. Additionally, it includes only $5 billion for expanding manufacturing supply chains despite the need for urgent and comprehensive supply chain reform.

BBB includes a limited $1 billion in grants for elementary and secondary educators.  Along with parents, teachers are bearing the brunt of getting students back on track, many of whom are facing severe academic and developmental hurdles due to school closures. Nothing is more important than getting our children the resources they need. It’s puzzling why such a small amount would be earmarked for something so important to millions of Americans, while something few have ever heard of – electrical bicycle tax credits – would be funded to the tune of $4 billion.

Compare that with the over $500 billion allocated to the climate and environment. The bill earmarks $8 billion for “environmental justice programs” – $3 billion more than for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and broken supply chains, and $7 billion more than for teachers. The $42 billion in green energy credits and $54 billion in clean electricity and transportation credits are nearly twice the size of the investments made in the workforce and in education, and will be taken advantage of by top-earning individuals.

The bill earmarks $8 billion for “environmental justice programs” – $3 billion more than for small businesses, entrepreneurs, and broken supply chains, and $7 billion for than for teachers.

BBB’s lack of investment in the Natural Gas industry is extremely problematic. Natural Gas (NATGAS) employs almost 500,000 Pennsylvanians and supports nearly 10% of our state’s Gross Domestic Product. BBB imposes new taxes and penalties on NATGAS and fails to expand upon promising projects like one in Nanticoke in Luzerne County. Their $6 billion in NATGAS investment is expected to create over 4,000 manufacturing jobs in just 30 months and generate $600 million in wages paid to working- and middle-class labor.

A Working Families and Middle-Class Re-empowerment Act would harness our comparative advantages in Pennsylvania and directly address the issues so many of us are experiencing – a lack of opportunity, a fear that children are being left behind, and an increasing cost of living.

To that end, it would be a jobs bill first and foremost, designed to reinvigorate American industry and manufacturing. It would leverage energy produced in Pennsylvania to create jobs in areas of advanced manufacturing such as shipbuilding, steel, pharmaceuticals, personal protective equipment (PPE), and machine tooling.

The coronavirus pandemic exposed our reliance on products made in other nations in such industries that are  critical to our national security and wellbeing. A focus on rebuilding these and related sectors at home would create jobs in industries with a history of generating mass employment (unlike green energy), strengthen our supply chains, and lessen our dependence on competitors for essential goods and inputs.

A Working Families and Middle Class Re-empowerment Act would provide a more robust program of education reform and investment, with a focus on integrating curricula with skills in demand in the 21st century labor market.. Our secondary schools should prepare graduates to enter the labor force immediately and attain wage and productivity-enhancing employment, without the need for a four-year college degree. Our children should have options when it comes to pursuing careers in the trades, advanced manufacturing, and other reinvigorated sectors of the economy.

A Working Families and Middle Class Re-empowerment Act would make workforce development a centerpiece, offering a more robust series of apprenticeships, regional pipelines, and partnerships between schools and industries to foster the next generation of skilled American labor. Instead of a disjointed series of funding mechanisms driven by political priorities, we should be focused on investments to bridge gaps caused by school closures and to strategically expand career opportunities for generations to come.

Unfortunately for us and for future generations, Build Back Better has a massive price tag, little focus, and no vision. A smaller bill targeting the economy, our workforce, and our schools would be more impactful. It would be fiscally responsible, restrain inflation, and directly address the concerns of Americans.

We must build an economy and education system that puts working- and middle-class citizens first. By empowering people through the dignity of the work my great-grandfather did, and by providing quality educational opportunities to every student, we can deliver the results hard-working citizens both deserve and desperately need.

David Galluch is a candidate for US Congress in Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.  He is a 2012 graduate of the US Naval Academy and a former Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer.  He resides in Delaware County with his wife Caroline.

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