(Washington, DC) – Today, during a U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing on “Small Business and the American Worker,” Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD) called for a comprehensive strategy to build a dynamic workforce, including removing barriers to reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals and ensuring that workers are able to pursue the postsecondary training—a four-year degree or technical training—that will allow them to achieve the American dream.

“The story of the American worker over the past three decades has been bleak,” Ranking Member Cardin said during his opening statement. “If we don’t take swift action in Washington to address income inequality, we risk losing the promise of upward mobility at the heart of the American dream.

Cardin continued, “Small businesses play a vital role in keeping that dream alive. Small businesses incubate breakthrough innovations, contribute to the health and dynamism of local communities, and provide the economic foundation for millions of American families.”

Cardin drove home the importance of ensuring that all workers—especially those from disadvantaged communities—have the same opportunities to choose their own destiny as workers from wealthy communities, saying: “Higher education is key because those who participate in higher education have a wage premium; we all know that they make more money. We should be doubling down to make access to higher education available to more of our citizens, who today cannot afford it because of tuition costs. We also need a balance between those that go on to higher education and those that need career and technical education for vocational pathways. It must be done in a balanced way because if you come from a disadvantaged community, you should have equal opportunity to do what’s best for your future, and I would suggest that that’s not necessarily the case today.”

A video of Cardin’s opening statement is available for download here.

Cardin lauded the recently-enacted First Step Act, but called on his Senate colleagues to go further by crafting solutions to help the more than 600,000 formerly incarcerated individuals who reenter society every year.

Cardin said: “One of the problems we have in getting qualified workers is the fact that we don’t have enough people who are trained at the level we need and we’ve discriminated against a large segment of our population who have criminal records… We have an opportunity here: this past Congress we passed the First Step Act, where we came together in a sensible way on sentencing, but now I think it’s important for us to come together on dealing with the realities of that population in our country.”

Cardin asked Baltimore-based Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF) Executive Director Caryn York to explain how JOTF is currently helping formerly incarcerated individuals in Maryland reenter society. York explained, “We’ve found that there is a significant segment of the working population that’s effectively unemployable as a result of a criminal record. There are a number of job opportunities, yet folks are unable to access them because of their criminal record or because of the communities they were raised in, which made it difficult for them to access the education opportunities that would allow them to access high-wage employment opportunities…

“…through Project JumpStart…we’re taking [Baltimore] City residents and training them in the trades and then helping them deal with all of these wrap-around case management services that—quite honestly—business owners and employers don’t have the time to deal with, but understand how important they are as it’s related to someone’s ability to secure and maintain employment.”

Click here to download a video of the exchange.