TOPEKA — While the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed many lives and left many businesses and people in precarious positions, U.S. Representative Jake LaTurner sees a silver lining in the growing emphasis on self-sufficiency.
For example, LaTurner boasted the COMPETES law, a bill that members of Congress touted as a key to reinvigorating American innovation in the STEM workforce, recently passed the US House. He was optimistic that the bill, which will soon head to a conference committee, could make investments to address supply chain issues exposed during COVID-19.
The science, technology, engineering and math legislation includes a $52 billion investment to produce semiconductor chips and $45 billion to improve manufacturing in the United States.
LaTurner spoke Thursday at the Topeka Zoo at the first in a series of congressional forums hosted by the Greater Topeka Partnership, a coalition of organizations focused on economic and community development. LaTurner, a Republican who represents the Topeka-area 2nd District in Congress, said the country also needs to create a more self-sufficient energy policy.
“I wish we got more of that energy here than I would with Russia or Saudi Arabia,” LaTurner said, adding that “fossil fuels and nuclear energy have to be part of our portfolio in a foreseeable future”. Renewable energies, of course, will also be part of this.
The term “energy independence” has been used frequently by DC politicians, especially as gas costs at the pump rise for people across the country. The term, energy experts supportis more a political slogan than a technical concept with a clear definition.
Many Republican politicians have argued that President Donald Trump achieved that goal, while Biden failed. But reviews of US oil balance sheet trends indicate that the country has been moving towards this idea of independence since 2005 and is still doing so under Biden, despite some fluctuations amid the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
LaTurner has criticized international agreements that he says give free passes to some of the biggest polluters.
Beyond domestic supply chain issues, LaTurner said one of the main concerns he hears from Kansans is the high rate of inflation. The annual inflation rate in the United States in March is 8.5%, the highest since December 1981.
The Kansas congressman credited fiscal irresponsibility at the federal level for the high rate of inflation.
“It affects us all every day. It costs more to go to lunch. It costs more to go to the grocery store,” LaTurner said. “Even if your business is doing well, input costs have increased dramatically and there are currently huge labor shortages.”
Last month, Kansas labor officials said the state’s unemployment rate for March was 2.5%, while inflation eclipsed wage improvements, meaning lower real incomes.
The number of people out of work fell over the year, from 51,8000 to 36,200. Wages in March were also 6.6% higher than a year earlier, but inflationary pressure continues led to a drop in real hourly wages of 1.8% compared to March 2021.
Unemployment rates for March 2022 and March 2021 in major population centers are as follows: Wichita area (five counties), 3.6% vs. 4.8%; Kansas City (five counties), 2.8% vs. 3.3%; Topeka (five counties), 3.1% vs. 3.2%; Manhattan (two counties), 2.6% vs. 2.8%; and Lawrence (Douglas County), 2.7% versus 3.4%.
“I appreciate (LaTurner) bringing attention to the various issues that are deeply aligned at the (federal) level and here in the field on labor, child care and availability issues. of housing,” said Curtis Sneden, president of Greater Topeka. Chamber of Commerce. “Many of our small businesses are still struggling to emerge from the effects of the pandemic.”