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The Ragan Report

The United States created the strongest economy in the world by building a large middle class. Unfortunately, it has become more difficult since the Great Recession for lower- and middle-income Iowans to climb the ladder to prosperity.

Though the worst of the recession is over, many of our families, friends and neighbors continue to struggle. It's hard to believe that right here in America's heartland; one in eight Iowa families regularly went hungrylast year.

This session, we can take steps to turn that trend around and strengthen Iowa’s economy by:

1. Ensuring that free, high-quality preschool is a reality for all four year olds. Investing in children is the smartest investment we can make.

2. Making our state's tax system fairer. Middle-class Iowans shouldn't have to fork over an ever increasing portion of their hard-earned wages while the wealthy pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes.

3. Expanding affordable workforce trainingat our community colleges so that Iowans can get the skills local businesses need to grow and expand.

Iowans turn to our outstanding community colleges to take their high school equivalency exam, learn basic skills, train for jobs and earn industry-recognized certificates in welding, health care, computers and other areas. While we've wisely agreed to freeze tuition at our state universities for the second straight year, we need to extend similar support to Iowa’s community colleges. Higher community college tuition would be a setback for Iowans training for job openings and for the local businesses in need of skilled workers.

Business leaders say improving worker training is the most important thing we can do to keep Iowa's economy growing. Middle-skill jobs are on the rise, making up about 56 percent of Iowa positions. However, only about a third of Iowa workers qualify for them, according to a report on Middle-Skill Jobs in Iowa. Middle-skill jobs encompass a wide range of occupations, from computer specialists and radiation therapists to carpenters and machinists—positions that require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

Last year with bipartisan support, we expanded a successful skills training effort to every community college in the state. I will work with the Governor to ensure Iowans can take advantage of these new opportunities to train for better-paying jobs. Affordable tuition for those willing to study hard and work hard is a smart approach to strengthening Iowa's middle class and keeping our workforce competitive.

This is a legislative column by Senator Amanda Ragan, representing Franklin, Butler and Cerro Gordo counties. For newsletters, photos and further information, go to www.senate.iowa.gov/senator/ragan.

To contact Senator Ragan during the week, call the Senate Switchboard at 515-281-3371. Otherwise she can be reached at home at 641-424-0874. E-mail her at amanda.ragan@legis.iowa.gov.

Senator Ragan is an Assistant Senate Majority Leader, chair of the Human Resources Committee and vice-chair of the Health & Human Services Budget Subcommittee. She also serves on the Appropriations, Natural Resources & Environment, Rules & Administration and Veterans Affairs committees.