Bringing Americans together: What I learned in Pleasant Gap
By Raja Krishnamoorthi
Is America coming apart?
That question has been on many minds since last November’s election. It’s one that I confront every day as a member of Congress. But despite the hue and cry in Washington and on various cable news and radio stations, I continue to believe that there’s more that unites us than divides us. That was brought home to me again during the August congressional recess.
Late last summer, I found myself in Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania — in the district of my colleague, Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican. Pleasant Gap is an unincorporated community of fewer than 3,000 people. Its residents are about 96 percent white. It’s a far cry from my hometown of Schaumburg, in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. Schaumburg, a community of 75,000, is a little United Nations. Fully 20 percent of its residents are Asian-Americans.
When you look up at the sky in Pleasant Gap, you see Mount Nittany. When you do the same in Schaumburg, you’re likely to see a jet plane headed to O’Hare International Airport. The two towns could hardly be more different. Yet, their residents share a common and critical concern: finding the good-paying jobs of today and tomorrow — the kind of jobs on which to raise a family and live a middle-class life.
I was visiting Pleasant Gap to talk about the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. This legislation, which Congressman Thompson and I co-sponsored, is the first major overhaul of our national Career and Technical Education Act in more than a decade. Together, we were meeting with students at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology to talk about how our bill could boost their efforts to obtain good-paying technical jobs.
Although the students looked a little different from those I’ve visited at similar institutions in my own district, such as Harper and Elgin Community Colleges, their objective was the same: to get the education and training necessary for employment with a local industry.
As in many places around our country, the jobs are there — but the skills are not. I learned that the students in Pleasant Gap are embarking on a new natural gas compressor training program in partnership with local companies such as Ariel Corporation. Once the students’ training is complete, their employment in these companies is assured.
In Schaumburg and across the Chicago suburbs, similar partnerships are training workers for employment with local companies such as Zurich North America, Motorola Solutions and IBM. Many of these jobs don’t require a four-year college degree, which is out of reach or not of interest to many students. But they do require the technical skills taught in our community colleges and other vocational programs. And those programs, in turn, often partner with existing local businesses that are seeking workers with the skills and background to perform highly technical jobs.
Our Thompson-Krishnamoorthi bill, which passed the House unanimously and is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate, is designed specifically to aid this process. It aims to improve the alignment of technical and career training across the U.S. so it results in real, good-paying jobs in the local economy. Our bill provides greater flexibility and control by local schools, education officials, and business leaders to produce workers with the skills and training most in local demand.
And it combines more federal funding for such programs with increased transparency and accountability to ensure positive results.
The students I met in Pleasant Gap share the same dreams as those I’ve met and spoken with in Schaumburg and other communities across my district. They want an opportunity to learn what they need to find a good job, support their families and build a middle-class life. It’s what brought my parents to America from India to pursue a better future for their family. It’s what GT Thompson’s father fought for as a member of the U.S. Navy.
Now, Congressman Thompson is a conservative Republican, and I’m a progressive Democrat. There are lots of issues on which we respectfully disagree. But there are others — like helping our constituents obtain good-paying jobs with a future — on which we are working together. I believe the same opportunity exists with common challenges such as rebuilding our national infrastructure and fixing our health care system.
The truth is that, from Pleasant Gap to Schaumburg, we’re all in this together. It’s a lesson that Washington needs to relearn.
Raja Krishnamoorthi represents the 8th Congressional District of Illinois and serves as the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Education and the Workforce.