Keeping the People of the 8th District Competitive


Investing in Skilled Workers

Labor force growth in Minnesota is falling behind industry’s need for skilled workers. The lack of skilled workers is creating a situation where job growth will be limited by lack of available workforce, especially in Greater Minnesota. This is particularly critical in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District where the population is both aging and declining more rapidly than in other parts of the state. We need all hands on deck in order to stay competitive. It is imperative to attract new workers and to make the most of the workforce we have by removing barriers to successful employment for young people, women, and people of color. 

Leah will:

Support the recommendations of the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce (CIAW) including adequate investment in:

  • Employment and training programs - helping states, local areas, and other partners can fully realize the bipartisan vision outlined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA);

  • Adult education and literacy programs - ensuring that the 36 million Americans with low basic skills can take advantage of existing and emerging economic opportunities;

  • Wagner-Peyser Employment Services (ES) activities – providing states the additional resources they need to provide WIOA’s intensive reemployment services;

  • Vocational rehabilitation programs – and other employment services for adults and students with disabilities;

  • Apprenticeship programs;

  • Perkins CTE state grants – at least at $1.3 billion to support CTE programs aligned to needs of business and industry;

  • Pell Grant program – ensuring that the more than 7 million low-income students receiving this critical financial assistance can continue to pursue their education.

Leah will also work to reduce barriers faced by resident job seekers by:

  • Ensuring investment in job training and employment services for older workers (Senior Community Service Employment Program) and employment services for at-risk veterans (Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program);

  • Supporting multi-generational strategies to help families achieve self-reliance that include connecting childcare and development, healthcare, and transportation with adult career education and preparation to meet the needs of working adults and their children;

  • Working with local partners including the State of Minnesota and local governments, the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the Governor’s Workforce Development Board (GWDB) including its Racial and Disability Equity Committees, local Workforce Development Boards, Community Based Organizations, Community Colleges and other stakeholders to develop innovative Federal, State and Private partnerships to address this urgent issue.

  • Remain informed of innovative workforce development projects within the district to determine connections for federal innovation and assistance. Some of those projects include YouthBuild, EMPOWER (a project recruiting and training women for nontraditional careers), the Applied Learning Institute (ALI), and short-term customized education. 

Maintaining Critical Services

Much of Minnesota, especially rural Minnesota, experiences labor force shortages in several critical sectors, such as qualified direct support professionals and teachers. These are vital roles that must be filled for any community to thrive. Yet, it is often extremely difficult to attract and retain qualified, talented individuals to fill these roles. Pay is low and fiscal constraints placed on schools and providers limit wage increases. People working in such positions are often challenged to make ends meet. Rising health care costs, both premiums and deductibles create additional pressures on the ability of these employees to meet their own basic needs.

We need to ensure there are wage increases along with improved benefits for those doing these jobs to quell this hiring crises. We must attract and retain quality workers in the labor pool for these jobs. In a tight labor market, better-qualified applicants command higher wages and better benefits. Neither is possible under the fiscal and legislative constraints nonprofits and local school districts face.

Average wage for a direct support professional in many Minnesota group homes is between $12.50 and $15.00 per hour. This equates to $26,000- $31,000 gross annual income, just slightly less than the annual mean wage for preschool teachers (except special education). Direct support workers may have children enrolled in MN Care but they themselves are not eligible. Their employers may offer “affordable coverage,” but this coverage on averagecosts the employee between $3,000 and $5,000 per year in premiums and deductibles. That’s 12% to 15% of an employee’s gross income.

One option would be to permit the formation of cooperatives or similar structures to pool entities and employees. Less cumbersome alternatives could involve letting employers be able to “buy-in” to Minnesota Care, which could further subsidize health care premiums. The objective is to target health costs at no more than 7.5 percent of gross income for critical labor force positions, positions such as rural teachers and direct service staff in group homes.

In 2015, the median household income in Park Rapids, MN was $33,822, a 3.52% growth from the previous year.

Minnesota’s current administration has developed a Minnesota Care “Buy-In” option that works much better for single people than for families. A family of four in Park Rapids would pay almost $17,000 in Minnesota Care premiums in 2018, plus co-pays or any other out-of-pocket expenses. Using some general national averages of health care costs, that family would need an income of $140,000+ to keep their health care costs at 12 percent of gross income.

According to the most recent data available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the average American spent $9,596 on healthcare in 2012, which was up significantly from $7,700 in 2007. The solution to these costs is to transition to a single-payer plan. As part of that transition, we can help rural communities stay competitive by finding creative ways to lower health care costs for jobs facing critical labor force shortages. This can begin by allowing a Medicare “buy-in” option for non-metropolitan counties facing labor shortages in health care services and K-12 education. Leah will work tirelessly to ensure that all Americans have access to quality, affordable healthcare.