James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. April 2 12:33 P.M. EDT
Okay. A special guest. A member of our Jobs Cabinet. Today, I am thrilled to have Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh with us. As you all know, Secretary Walsh was mayor of the City of Boston for the last seven years.
While mayor, he led the creation of close to 140,000 jobs, helped secure a statewide $15-an-hour minimum wage, paid sick leave, and paid parental leave. He established universal, high-quality pre-kindergarten for all children and free community college for low-income students.
After following his father into Laborers Local 223 in Boston, Secretary Walsh rose to head the Building and Construction Trades Council from 2011 to 2013.
Before serving as mayor, he was a state representative for one of the most diverse districts in Massachusetts. There, he focused on creating jobs, protecting workers' rights, expanding mental health treatment, and investing in public transit.
As always, he's happy to take a couple questions. I'll be the bad cop. But, with that, we'll turn it over to you.
Thanks, Jen. Thank you very much, Jen. And it's an honor to be here today. I want to also thank President Biden and the Vice President Harris for inviting me to share an update on the economic recovery at this important moment in time.
The news today: Under the President's leadership, through the American Rescue Plan, the — America's workforce is climbing out of the deep hole that COVID has put us in. Our recovery is building momentum, and many more Americans are certainly returning to work, as we can see. But we still have a long way to go, and there's a lot of work to do.
Today's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the American economy added 916,000 jobs in the month of March. The unemployment rate edged down to 6 percent, from 6.2 percent in February. That's certainly good news for over 900,000 working men and fam- — men and women and families in this country. We saw significant job growth in most sectors of our economy. And it's clear that the National Vaccine Program is not only saving lives, but it's enabling more people to get back to work.
Relief checks and expanded unemployment benefits are not only putting food on the table, they're also stimulating our local economy. Their support — the supports that are being put in place for rent, mortgages, childcare, schools, small businesses, and emergency paid leave are giving workers the security they need to hold on and start planning for a better future.
The American Rescue Plan certainly has had positive effects across our economy, laying down the foundation for continued recovery. At the same time, over 8 million jobs that existed a year ago today are yet to return. Millions of people in this country are still hurting, and disparities within the workforce continues to be a major concern. The African American unemployment rate in March was 9.6 percent, the Hispanic rate was 7.9 percent, compared to the 5.4 percent for whites.
In addition, barriers to the labor force participation for women continue to be a problem that has been exposed and exasperated during this pandemic. We must continue to address the fact that working people and communities already suffering the most from inequality were hit the hardest during the COVID illness and job loss.
That's why the American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden this week is so vital to our future. It tackles each of these issues head on and with bold action. The plan offers a necessary path forward towards sustainable economic growth that is robust, competitive, and inclusive.
As a former mayor, as Jen mentioned — as a former mayor, I know all about infrastructure needs. This plan would move us into the 21st century and to the forefront of the world in transportation, in clean energy, in high-speed Internet, and would create millions of good jobs all across the United States.
A report issued by Georgetown University's Center on Education and Workforce found that the American Job Plan would create over 8 million jobs for people with just a high school diploma alone. It would increase the share of infrastructure jobs from 11 percent to 14 percent of the jobs in this country, reviving the blue-collar, middle-class economy and all across our country.
As Labor Secretary, I'm thrilled by the investment it would make for American workers in their skills, in their opportunities, and in their right to organize and advocate for better-paying working conditions and jobs. Those investments will create and open up access to good manufacturing and construction jobs.
It will also — there's also a major investment in our caring professionals, in an industry where one in six workers — who are disproportionately women of color — live in poverty.
We've seen how much our families depend on childcare and seniors care over the last year. Those skilled, compassionate workers need and deserve a better deal.
The American Jobs Plan would also double the number of registered apprentices — apprenticeships to over 1 million while ensuring these programs reach those who have been left out in the past.
I've personally seen the benefits of union apprenticeships up close. As mayor, I launched an apprentice program. As mayor and as a labor leader, I've seen them change the lives of women and people of color in low-income communities in the city of Boston.
For those reasons and many other, this plan that fuels — is the fuel to a true engine of our economy. The working people certainly can — will work — run off that.
It's not only the numbers that tell the story of the economy; this is about the conversations Americans are having at kitchen tables all across our country. Over the last two weeks, I've talked to parents; I've talked to childcare providers; I've talked to small-business owners, members of labor unions, frontline public employees, and federal and local employees; mayors all across America, cities both large and small. I've talked to senators. I've talked to a couple governors. They continue to be concerned about the situation and what they're seeing in their communities, but everyone seems to be optimistic and hopeful. They all see a pathway forward.
Today's data shows, while jobs are coming back, unemployment remains a necessary lifeline for too many people, for millions of Americans. But a new opportunity — a good job, providing for your family, building up your community — those are the things that will allow us to dream again. And that's exactly what we're working for in this administration and all across America.
With that, I'll take some questions.
All right. Andrea.
Secretary Walsh, we've got some factory owners in the Midwest telling us that they're really struggling to get people to take their jobs. So if we're going to add 19 million jobs, where are the people who take those jobs going to come from? And how would — do you need to do extra training?
Well, first of all, in this bill, there is job training money and there's workforce development money. And I also think — I think the biggest thing that a lot of — what I've heard — a lot of workers are concerned about is COVID-19. People are still afraid of the impacts of COVID-19. Still too many deaths, too much loss of life.
And I think that — I know this — that the President's plan is a competent plan, a vaccine plan, to get more and more shots out. And the President, I think, doubled down on his efforts the other day about the vaccine. He reaches his vaccine goal of 100 million vaccine shots, and now he's shooting towards 200 million. That's going to make a difference.
And I think what we've seen a little bit in some of the economy today, in the numbers, is people feeling comfortable coming back into the workforce. People need to feel safe. The President stressed today: Wear a mask. Wash your hands with soap and warm water. Physical distance. Be careful. You know, stay — stay separate. All of those things are still very much — you have to do — any state, any city in this country.
But there is — I mean, there are gaps in — and even now, even — you know, sort of, even before COVID, there were gaps between what was available in terms of jobs and people who were willing to take them for, you know, sort of, manufacturing positions and things like that.
I mean, I think that the numbers right now, when you look at the numbers, we still have eight-point — I think it's 8.4 million people out of work. The people — and there's another nearly 2 million people that are not in the workforce.
Again, I think it comes down to safety. I think it comes down to fear. Even in within the Department of Labor, a lot of conversations I've had with the employees at the Department of Labor asking us, you know, "When do we come back? You know, how — what are the safety precautions that are going to be put in place?"
You know, we're not bringing people back right now. I think that — as mayor of the City of Boston, I heard it every day. People want — companies and — people want people to come back into work, but people are still fearful.
I think as we get through the next couple of weeks, or — I think — I think that that will shift and change. I think as people get vaccinated, as more and more people continue to get vaccinated, I think you'll see more and more people want to come back into the workforce.
What will the impact on these travel changes that are taking place — the CDC is saying those who are fully vaccinated can travel. Obviously, hospitality, travel, entertainment have been big sectors that have suffered a great deal. What do you see as the, sort of, comeback arc, time wise, for those areas of the economy to have employment coming back?
You know, again, that's a great question. I think that, again, it comes back to people feeling safe and comfortable. I don't mean to keep going back to "being the mayor of Boston," but one of our major industries is tourism. We haven't held a convention at the Convention Center in Boston for over a year. My office overlooked Faneuil Hall; that would — a day like today, there'd be thousands of people shopping at Faneuil Hall. If I were in my old office today looking out the window, I'd probably see half a dozen.
Again, I think the more that we can get the vaccine out to people, the more we can get shots in people's arms, the more that we can control the virus and eliminate the virus. That is going to be key.
I mean, I can't stress it — and I know President Biden said it today — I can't stress the fact enough of wearing a mask. There are people that won't wear a mask. Well, wear a mask for the people around you, making sure that you're being safe and getting testing — tested. All of those things are so important to moving us forward.
The hospitality industry had a pretty good day today, when you look at the numbers. The numbers show that a lot of our restaurants had — are starting to reopen and open across the country. But they're not there yet. So we need to do everything we can, within our power, to combat this virus and beat this virus back if we truly want a full recovery.
And it's great to see more and more people traveling, but we also — there's many more people that just won't get on a plane right now. They're — even with the vaccine, they're worried.
So we just have to continue to educate and continue to fight this virus back.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. As you know, the $15-an- hour minimum wage fell out of the COVID relief bill. Is it your expectation that that will be part of phase two of the infrastructure and jobs plan?
Well, I think, you know, the President has been very clear he is very supportive, as I am, of raising the minimum wage. And I think that we will continue to work until we get a vehicle that we can — can have a debate and a vote on the minimum wage.
I think that the minimum wage is really — you know, when you look at the aspects of today's plan, one of the areas that we saw a lot of growth was in low-skilled, mostly — a lot of high school dropouts that came into the workforce — low-wage earners. Minimum wage changes that dynamic.
Those same workers coming back, having a minimum wage, raises their wages, which can actually put more money back into the economy. So that's something that I know the President is focused on, I'm focused on as Secretary of Labor, and I know there's other members of administration that are going to be focused on that as well.
But you haven't decided whether that'll be part of phase two?
That's a conversation I'll have to have with the President.
And then on today's job numbers, one of the things we noticed was that the unemployment rate for Asian Americans went up almost a full percentage point, even though those numbers dropped for almost every other demographic group or at least stayed the same. Do you know why that would be?
No. That came up in the conversation — in my briefing this morning. So they're still diving in to try and figure out what that's all about. So we'll get some information on you. We didn't have the information today. They're trying to — because it seems a little -everyone brought that — that number kind of jumped out. Everyone is saying, "There's something not right here."
On the infrastructure plan: To what extent should union jobs be prioritized in that infrastructure plan?
I think in a lot of ways — I mean, a lot of those jobs will be union jobs. I think that it's important though that — to make sure that those jobs that the — that are inside this bill — whether it's roads and bridges, whether it's water upgrading, whether it's VA, all of those construction jobs, if you will — I think it's really important that there's good wages with those jobs.
The President and — I believe in collective bargaining; the President believes in collective bargaining. So, certainly support having higher wages there.
Again, I mean, we'll have to see where this bill ends up and what's actually in the bill, but we believe in those areas. The Building Trades actually support this piece of — this part of the legislation, because it's about infrastructure. It's about building roads and bridges and all the other things that are going to be here.
So, you know, I think it's important to have, obviously, good — make this — this part of the bill is certainly one of those that creates entry points into the middle class for people.
And then, on addressing income inequality, is the Labor Department going to do anything different, as far as gauging numbers? Are you planning to change the way you count in terms data for people?
So today was my first jobs today. And I had my first briefing at eight o'clock this morning, and it was — I had a quick briefing yesterday, but not about the numbers today. And one of the things that I — that I did bring up in the conversation was about women who have been pushed out of the workforce. Two million women have been pushed out of the workforce during COVID. So we talked about that.
As mayor, dealing with inequality and — women's inequality, when it comes to getting paid what a man makes, and then looking what a white woman compared to a person of — a woman of color, to a Latino. So I brought that up today.
So what I want to do is do deeper dives with these stats, because you can't fix a problem — well, the stats are there, but you can't address a problem correctly if you don't have the stats. So I have a whole different group of people now — economists — that are going to help me with this. And I intend on using that to help close these gaps — and people of color as well, close these gaps. This is important.
And part of the American Jobs Plan — you know, when we think about — as it goes through its process through Congress, we think about what the numbers say and how do we create and draw up programs through workforce development, registered — or union apprenticeships and other places. How can we make sure that those investments are targeted? So those are all things that we can collectively do.
And also work with Commerce, work with Transportation — all of my colleagues, the other secretaries — because this issue of inequality is not just a labor issue; it's all across the board.
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