Task force begins quest for ideas on how to grow Pa.'s middle class in a changing economy


Gov. Tom Wolf has placed a priority on supporting and growing Pennsylvania's middle class and is looking to education, workforce development, labor and business leaders to develop a plan to do it.

He has convened a task force to develop policy recommendations by the end of this year of actionable ideas that lead toward that goal.

The panel held its first of six regional meetings on Friday at the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union building in Susquehanna Township. The other sessions are planned in other parts of the state to gather input about how to better support working families and make the workforce more competitive in those regions of the state.

It was clear from the first meeting of this panel that the task force is focused not only on sustaining the middle class that exists now but as Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry President and CEO Gene Barr said helping more working class people to move into it.

"We're not going to be able to resolve everything that would be of concern but I know one of the things in a pre-meeting that many of us were in with the governor... was resolving how Pennsylvania can build a better more competitive workforce," Barr said. "In our view, we would consider that to be a very productive use of this."

While some of the discussion focused on providing students with an adequate education to be able to compete in the changing economy, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale said, "we also have to find a way to help those who are in their 40s and 50s" who find technology or automation leaves them without a job.

Among a myriad of issues that task force members discussed was wage stagnation, areas without broadband access, lack of financial resources to acquire skills needed for changing demands of workforce, more awareness of jobs that provide family-sustaining incomes that require less than a college degree, and preparing students the skills that enable them to pivot to different career pathways throughout the life.

"Our state is making progress by increasing education funding and expanding economic incentives and workforce training but middle class families know we must do more," said Wolf said in a news release. He wasn't in attendance at this meeting but it was mentioned he may attend one of the upcoming sessions of this panel.

"It is important this task force hears from people on all sides so we can develop education, training and economic development opportunities to ensure middle class families can live and compete in the 21st century economy," Wolf said.