Jobs & The Economy

Innovation and Growth, Security and Stability

The value of a job isn't something measured in wages or salary or financial benefits alone.

The value of a job is something more -- something deeper.

A job means security and stability. A sense of purpose and self-worth.

A job… means dignity.

All of this is why "job creation" has never been a mere campaign slogan or a dry policy prescription to me.

I know from my own experience how tough it can be for the family of a single parent when that parent is laid off or otherwise loses her job. How challenging it is for the student who needs a loan and a job to pay for college. I know exactly what it's like when a family cannot afford to buy a car, let alone a home.

My very first job was a lunchtime cashier at my elementary school. My "pay" was a hot school lunch. Later, my brother helped me fix up an old bike we painted blue so I could have a paper route. When I got to college, it was a work-study program that helped me pay my tuition and buy books.

And it was my college education that truly opened the doors of opportunity for me.

My plan for job creation starts with quality education. Because strong schools mean a stronger economy for all of us.

Business leaders agree: "Our businesses need the best educated workforce possible and they realize that our children must be able to compete internationally," says Gary Kai, executive director of the Hawaii Business Roundtable. "Research shows that the highest rate of return for investments in human capital occurs in a child's earliest years."

It's why I've worked with a cross section of leaders from both sides of the aisle to write the Continuum of Learning Act of 2011. The Hawaii Business Roundtable has declared this bipartisan initiative "helps to prepare children to succeed when they get to kindergarten and to be successful throughout their entire school career."

And once our keiki get to K-12, they must enter the strongest public schools so, when they graduate, they're ready to go to college or enter the job market.

That's going to help grow Hawaii’s economy in the future. And strong schools help our economy right now, by making Hawaii an even more attractive place to relocate a business or start a new one.

How do we create jobs today?

As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I know one of the best ways to create jobs is to finally get to work fixing our aging roads, bridges, harbors, airports and water systems -- the stuff Washington likes to call "infrastructure," but which you and I know as the day-to-day building blocks of Hawaii's economy. That's why I supported important investments in Hawaii like working on Saddle Road on Hawaii Island, replacing the South Punaluu Stream Bridge on Oahu, and improvements to Market Street -- from Kahawai Street to Mokuhau Road -- in Wailuku, Maui.

It's also why both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO agree with me on the urgent need to create a National Infrastructure Bank. This bipartisan idea, which is also a key element of President Obama's American Jobs Act, would create a bank to help fund projects that need financial backing and are a good benefit for our communities. And when more projects get the funding they need to move forward, we'll be putting more of our people back to work.

As we invest in modernizing our roads and highways and bridges, we also need to invest in a more sustainable future for Hawaii.

That starts with growing our clean-energy industry. Right now our families pay some of the highest rates for energy in the country. And most of our energy comes from fossil fuels, which must be imported and makes us vulnerable. At the same time, we have some of the most innovative research and development (R&D) in clean energy taking place right here -- from solar to ocean, wind to geothermal, and our biofuels industry. In fact, the U.S. military has recognized that clean U.S.-made energy is vital for our economy and our national security. This emphasis on clean energy will make the military a large driver of this R&D in the coming years and provide Hawaii's workforce and businesses with new opportunities.  

I've been proud to assist these efforts to create clean-energy jobs by supporting the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the National Defense Authorization of 2010.

We also have to boost both the production and the sale of Hawaii's local foods. That's why I've worked to help our local farmers -- from assistance with water conservation projects to fighting for expanded country-of-origin labeling so our Hawaii-made products can compete.  

As we work to grow these sectors of our economy, we also need to look at how we diversify Hawaii's number one economic driver -- tourism.

As lieutenant governor, I pushed for federal visa reforms so we could share our special state with visitors from South Korea. After the success of APEC, we're reminded how important it is to continue these efforts to cut the red tape and bureaucracy that keeps visitors out of the U.S. I was proud to cosponsor legislation to help business travelers from APEC economies more easily visit the U.S. I'm also working on bipartisan legislation that will help us attract more visitors from China and Canada -- creating more jobs, growing our economy and helping our small businesses stabilize and expand.

Our small businesses have worked hard to survive in this fragile economy. That's why I've fought to ensure and increase small business owners' access to capital so they can keep their doors open and their businesses operating. I've also supported tax credits that enable Hawaii's small businesses to make investments in needed equipment as well as hire and keep employees.

Now is also the time to make investments in innovation. Two initiatives I've long championed -- the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program -- were recently renewed by Congress. These are great examples of how smart investments in public-private partnerships create jobs through innovation. Plus they're cost-effective.

And to help create more demand for goods, and provide financial relief for Hawaii's middle class, I've supported the current payroll tax cut. This tax cut creates jobs and helps the economy by giving all working families a boost in a tough economy when they need it most.

We must help our families and friends and neighbors among the 13 million out of work in our country -- 41,000 in Hawaii alone.

Unfortunately, our returning heroes -- our men and women in uniform returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan -- have been among the hardest hit. Transitioning to civilian life is hard enough. That's why I joined my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. By providing tax incentives that encourage private businesses to hire our veterans, we're helping businesses get well-qualified employees and keeping our commitment to those who have sacrificed most for America.

For those who continue to look for work in one of the toughest job markets our country has faced, I've consistently fought to extend unemployment insurance. We need to help those who have worked hard but have fallen on tough times afford basic necessities for their families. In the Senate, I'll continue this fight. I voted against recent outrageous legislation in Congress that would restrict unemployment to those with high school diplomas. My own mother wouldn't qualify for this -- and trust me, there were times her unemployment checks were what put food on the table.    

My mother is one of the most courageous people I know. Her determination to find a better life for herself, my brothers, and me brought us to Hawaii. As a single parent, she was the sole breadwinner. Through her experiences as a woman in the workforce, at a time when there weren't a lot of working women, I've seen a remarkable example. It's why I've always been a strong supporter of equal pay for equal work. When I cast my vote for the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, it was for my mother and all the women like her who for so long earned less than their male colleagues for the same job. As a senator, I'll continue to help working women with the challenges they face like finding affordable childcare and protecting guaranteed family and medical leave. And as long as women only earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men, I'll never stop fighting to help working women.

As a senator, I'll continue to reach out to my colleagues on both side of the aisle to create jobs so we can put more people back to work. Not only will this have a significant effect on our economic health, it will also have a positive effect on our federal government's financial health. Cutting waste and raising revenue will only get us so far when it comes to balancing the budget. Growing our economy has got to be part of our strategy to cut the deficit. By taking a balanced approach, we’ll be able to get our economy back on track and ensure that our commitments to our seniors, children, and veteran -- Social Security, Medicare, quality public schools, and veterans' benefits -- are as strong as ever.

These are just some of my ideas and priorities for getting Hawaii and America back to work. In a place as innovative and creative and entrepreneurial as our state, I know you must have even more ideas. I am always listening, and encourage you to share them.