One year ago, the committee met to examine the state of the workforce. It was our first hearing of the 112th Congress, and reflected our commitment to make job creation and American competitiveness top priorities.
Much has happened since we met in January of 2011. Unemployment was 9.1 percent; today it stands at 8.5 percent. Nearly 14 million workers were unemployed; now one million fewer workers are unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed -- those out of work for 27 weeks or more -- has also declined from 6.2 million to 5.6 million.
These facts may demonstrate modest progress, but far too many Americans continue to face significant hardship in this tough economy. The number of Americans participating in the labor force is at its lowest level in 28 years. More than 8 million individuals are working part time because full time jobs are unavailable and one million "discouraged" workers have abandoned their job search entirely.
Simply put, we are experiencing the weakest recovery since the Great Depression. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, the recovery of the 1980's led to 18 straight months of growth greater than 5 percent. Yet our own recovery over the last two and a half years has averaged just 2.5 percent. The nation should be firing on all cylinders, yet our economy remains stuck in neutral.
In many ways, the current administration has made matters worse by promoting the politics of fear and uncertainty. Costly regulations that fail to enhance the welfare of workers, bureaucratic actions that favor powerful special interests at the expense of employers and employees, and politically motivated decisions that destroy tens of thousands of good paying jobs are part of what Governor Mitch Daniels described as a "pro-poverty agenda."
To help restore certainty and confidence, the House of Representatives has approved more than 30 bipartisan jobs proposals in the last 12 months. The bills touch upon virtually every part of the economy, from labor relations and energy security to tax relief and fiscal responsibility. No single proposal represents a silver bullet, but each helps remove government barriers to economic growth and job creation.
While more than 25 House-passed jobs bills face obstruction in the Democrat-led Senate, a number of our legislative efforts have reached the president's desk. In January, I had the privilege of joining Speaker Boehner on a trip across Latin America, including a stop in Colombia to visit with its business leaders and elected officials. Thanks to the bipartisan effort of this Congress, working with the president, Colombia will soon import -- duty free -- goods and products built by American workers.
Speaking of our trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, the president stated, "American automakers, farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, including many small businesses, will be able to compete and win in new markets." We need to build on this success and explore new opportunities to help workers thrive in the global economy.
I am hopeful job training reform is an area in which we can work together to strengthen the competiveness of the workforce. For the nation's long-term unemployed, seven months without work can feel like a lifetime. Effective job training support can help workers get back on their feet and back to work. The need for a leaner, more efficient workforce investment system has never been more urgent. I was pleased to hear the president call for reform in his State of the Union address, and we stand ready to take action.
Already, my Republican colleagues have introduced three proposals that lay the foundation for a 21st century job training system. A key component of our effort is the consolidation of dozens of federal workforce programs into four flexible funding streams. Streamlining these programs will enhance support for workers, offer a better trained workforce for employers, and promote better use of taxpayer dollars. The president suggested the need for even greater consolidation, and we are happy to consider a responsible plan to do that.
In fact, I sent a letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis this morning that asks for more details about the president's new job training proposal. I look forward to receiving a timely response so we can improve the nation's workforce investment system without delay.
Over the last several years, we've seen a lot of failed policies and broken promises, starting with a so-called stimulus plan that created debt, not jobs. And I know there are sharp differences on this committee. However, it is not enough to shout from the stands and criticize the plays being called on the field. I encourage all members, on both sides of the aisle, to stay engaged, offer positive solutions, and work to find common ground.