Starting small but hoping big, Booker introduces bill on apprenticeships

WASHINGTON – Sens. Cory Booker (D. N.J.) and Tim Scott (R., S.C.) – who are two of the youngest members of the Senate and its only two African-Americans, but who come from opposite ends of the political spectrum -- introduced a bill together Wednesday aimed at increasing apprenticeships for young people seeking jobs.

Booker, a left-leaning Democrat from Newark, had pledged to bridge political divides when he ran for Senate, and he found his first formal bipartisan partner in Scott, a tea party favorite who joined the Senate in 2012.

Their bill would offer tax credits of up to $1,500 to companies that offer apprenticeship programs.

It’s a relatively small proposal, but Booker, who has kept a low profile since joining the Senate but has made a point of meeting with Republicans, was optimistic about bolder plans in the future.

“I’m going to work hard to find ways to build bigger and bigger, sort of, alliances with people across the aisle so that we can do big things,” he said. “The really big things.”

Both Senators painted this bill as a way to help fill 4 million job vacancies in the country, and to help young people – particularly those who may not have finished high school or gone to college – get training and a foothold in jobs that pay well. Booker said 16 percent of Americans under the age of 24 are unemployed.

“It’s a win for industry – you get workers … you increase retention, you increase the skilled work force that you have, you increase the skilled productivity that you have,” Booker said, “and for workers, it’s a significant wage increase as well.”

Booker said it could help young people get training in good jobs that might otherwise be out of reach. The New Jersey senator, sometimes criticized for being too close to big businesses, has focused on largely populist issues since joining the Senate late last year: unemployment benefits, the minimum wage and now this measure.

The bill is built on a model in Scott's home state, where he said companies with experience overseas – such as BMW and Boeing – have utilized the state program. Countries such as Germany, England and Canada offer many more apprenticeship programs than in the United States, the senators said.

“This is a program based on success,” Scott said.

Both Senators are seeking re-election this year.

Importantly for the Republican, it offers tax breaks to businesses and would be paid for with $450 million per year in budget cuts, which the senators said would come from barring the printing of any federal publications that are available online.

The bill would provide tax credits of $1,500 for apprenticeships for people younger than 25, and $1,000 for apprenticeships that target people between 25 and 29. The exact details of the apprenticeships – how many hours they require, what training is provided, whether the apprentices would be paid or receive benefits – would depend on guidelines set by the federal Department of Labor or by individual states.

The general idea, according to the lawmakers, is to encourage businesses to hire and train young people for good jobs.

“This is going to be the wave of the future in terms of getting more people into those middle skill and even those high-skill jobs that pay a significant amount of money, because the demand is actually there,” Booker said.

Based on the amount of the tax credits and the savings the two senators have proposed, the program would provide incentives for a maximum of 450,000 apprenticeships per year.

Booker presented the idea to Scott at an event in February bringing together five of the nine African-Americans to ever serve in the Senate.

It’s not clear if the full Senate will take up the bill – many bills are introduced and few get a full vote – or if the House will be interested.

The two senators are scheduled to promote the bill in a Facebook Q-and-A oat 1:45 p.m. Thursday.

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