WASHINGTON — The only two African-American senators, a Democrat and a Republican, reached across the partisan divide Wednesday to introduce legislation targeting the high unemployment rate among minority youth.
Sens. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, unveiled a bill that would give businesses tax credits for hiring apprentices registered with the U.S. Labor Department or with a state government agency.
“One of the beauties of this legislation is it provides us an opportunity to find common ground,” Scott told reporters. “I don’t think either one of us have had to compromise in order to find this common ground.”
Scott and Booker, who both joined the Senate last year, said their measure is modeled after Apprenticeship Carolina.
Started by former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and expanded under current Gov. Nikki Haley, the program has helped to create 9,365 apprenticeships since its creation in 2007. Manufacturing and other firms in the state work with community colleges to train apprentices in robotics, information technology and a range of other skills.
The senators said their bill would help create 400,000 apprenticeships nationwide, filling a share of the 4 million jobs they said are vacant because employers can’t find workers with skills to fill them.
Scott, the only black Republican in Congress, and Booker said 16 percent of young people are unemployed, with the jobless rate still higher among minority youth. The overall unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7 percent from its Great Recession peak of 10 percent in October 2009.
Booker, a former mayor of Newark, N.J., said the United States is expected by 2020 to face a shortage of 3 million workers with associate degrees and 5 million with technical certificates.
“So this is actually a crisis that we have so many growing needs and not the workers to fill them,” he said.
Booker said half of all young German workers are apprentices compared with only 350,000 in the United States.
“This is a very specific strategy that’s really being exploited by our competitor nations from Canada to the United Kingdom to Germany,” Booker said. “This is going to be the wave of the future in terms of getting more people into those middle-skilled and even high-skilled jobs that pay a significant amount of money because the demand is actually there.”
Their bill, called the Leveraging and Energizing America’s Apprenticeship Programs Act, would give companies a tax credit of $1,500 for hiring an apprentice under the age of 25 and a credit of $1,000 for employing one 25 or older. The new program’s $450 million annual price tag would be offset by reducing federal printing costs by a similar amount.
Booker said he accepted Scott’s condition that their initiative could not increase overall federal spending. Government publications for seniors, Medicare recipients and communities with limited Internet access would be exempt from mandated printing reductions under the legislation.
Scott, a former state legislator and Charleston County, S.C., commissioner, introduced two anti-poverty bills in January. One measure would consolidate dozens of federal job training programs, while the second would divert some public education funds to provide more school choices for disabled and special needs children.
In an impassioned Senate floor speech Jan. 15, Scott challenged conservatives and liberals alike to use new tactics to help poor Americans as he described his own rise from modest beginnings.
Scott and Booker said they’ve been brainstorming on bipartisan bills since participating in a Black History Month panel the South Carolinian hosted at the Library of Congress in February. Five of the seven African-Americans who’ve served in the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction shared their personal journeys at the event.
Haley appointed Scott to replace Sen. Jim DeMint when he left in January 2013 to become head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Scott is running in the November election to serve the remainder of DeMint’s term, through 2016.
Booker won a special election in October 2013 to follow Sen. Jeffrey Chiesa, a former New Jersey attorney general who’d been named to the seat four months earlier by Gov. Chris Christie after the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Lautenberg’s term would have ended in January. Booker is seeking election in November to a full six-year term of his own.