By Harry C. Alford
Congress recently returned to Washington from its month-long August recess with a short, but vital to-do list for the two-week work period prior to adjournment and full-time focus on the midterm elections. Passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded beyond the election is a must, and the consideration of heady questions related to military intervention in the Middle East will keep lawmakers’ hands full as well.
But beyond these immediate agenda items, Congress must also retain and intensify its focus on keeping our economic recovery on track. After a decade of sluggish growth, maintaining a positive trajectory for the American economy is a full time job – and among the most important priorities facing policymakers at all levels of government.
To help examine the questions inherent to this challenge, I offered testimony last week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a hearing focused minority workforce development. As head of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, I have long sought to encourage policies that foster greater employment opportunities for minorities. Last week’s hearing offered an opportunity to do just that.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) , long a champion of minority workforce development, has offered a bill that would meaningfully increase the opportunities available to minorities nationwide. His legislation, the 21st Century Energy Workforce Development Jobs Initiative Act of 2014, takes meaningful steps in pursuit of good paying jobs with ample opportunity for advancement.
In addition to pursuing legislative action that helps to generate more opportunities, we should also focus intently on capitalizing on those opportunities that already exist, and ensuring that those opportunities are able to exist on a foundation of stable policy. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than within the energy sector – specifically oil and gas, where the natural gas boom is on track to create nearly unheard of opportunity for employment and advancement among African Americans and Hispanics.
In a report released recently by worldwide economics firm IHS Global Insight, analysts noted the oil and gas industry’s rapidly expanding workforce, taking particular note of the expansion underway in minority communities.
According to the report, high turnover in the next 10 years and the expansion of shale and natural gas will provide 166,000 new jobs for minorities by 2020. By 2030, that number could reach 285,000 jobs. It is not only the sheer number of new jobs available to minorities in the sector that is impressive, but the quality of these jobs as well. More than half of these jobs will be high-paying skilled and semi-skilled opportunities – a fantastic chance for young minorities to become college-educated petroleum engineers.
While jobs in other sectors flee oversees, the oil and gas industry will lead the economic charge for the foreseeable future here in the United States. And the sector’s investment in the United States demonstrates clearly that this trend is set to continue.
In its recent “Investment Heroes” report, the Progressive Policy Institute found that the energy industry invested more capital in the United States than nearly any other sector of our economy, along with the telecommunications industry. And that investment is creating jobs around the nation.
Take Baytown, Texas, where the $6 billion expansion of an ExxonMobil chemical plant is slated to create more than 10,000 high-paying jobs in the years to come. Countless other opportunities for growth exist along the Gulf coast and nationwide – a trend that can fuel our economy for years to come.
This optimistic news provides an incredible opportunity for minority citizens—an opportunity that the American public should support. The job security and opportunities for advancement in the oil and gas industry are unmatched in today’s economy and will only increase in the next few decades.
In order to fully realize the opportunities at hand, though, lawmakers must recognize the impact that their policy actions have on investment in this sector. In order to invest with confidence, energy companies need certainty, a stable tax and regulatory environment, and a level playing field.
Too often, amid the heated rhetoric of the campaign season, lawmakers with an axe to grind use politically-driven talking points to push for higher taxes on the oil industry. Singling out these companies – which already pay more income taxes than any other sector in our economy – for punitive, selective tax increases is the very definition of counterproductive policy.
Rather than using the tax code to punish a sector that stands to play such a vital role in our economic future, we should instead pursue reforms that help American businesses of all stripes to compete on a level playing field, creating jobs and generating revenue that will help keep our recovery on course.
We are fortunate to have at our disposal the tools that will make ongoing growth in the minority work force a reality. I look forward to working with Rep. Rush and his colleagues to help create a policy landscape upon which we can capitalize on the opportunities at hand.