Commentary: Labor Day 2022...America’s workforce is stronger than ever

By Marty Walsh
Posted 8/31/22

On Labor Day we honor the achievements of America’s workers, and in 2022 we have a historic victory to celebrate. Our nation’s working people have come all the way back from the depths of …

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Commentary: Labor Day 2022...America’s workforce is stronger than ever


On Labor Day we honor the achievements of America’s workers, and in 2022 we have a historic victory to celebrate. Our nation’s working people have come all the way back from the depths of a global pandemic, regaining every job lost and more.

This milestone seemed impossible to reach on Labor Day two years ago. The pandemic was out of control. Millions of Americans were out of work, and economic forecasters said unemployment could remain elevated for years to come.

Some commentators even lost faith in our national work ethic. Even today, some still say that Americans “don’t want to work anymore.”

What nonsense. This sour view of workers seems rooted in the belief that they should be happy with whatever they get. A deadly pandemic exposed the limits – and the disrespect – of that attitude.

The truth is, Americans were eager and ready to get back to work. They just needed the right opportunities, the kind President Biden’s American Rescue Plan delivered. It got vaccines to the people, relief to families, and support for schools and businesses to reopen safely. With these conditions in place, America got back to work – and in a big way.

Since President Biden took office, we’ve added 9.5 million jobs to the economy. The unemployment rate has plunged to 3.5 percent, matching a 53-year low.
Here in Rhode Island, the unemployment rate is 2.7 percent as Rhode Islanders are seizing opportunities like never before.

This job growth has been broad and widely shared. Some said construction would be slow to return. As of July, there were 82,000 more construction jobs than before the pandemic.
Healthcare workers battled bravely through the pandemic and, by this summer, nearly every single job in that vital sector was recovered.

Some said thinking we could restore America’s manufacturing was naïve. Well, manufacturing has more than fully recovered – and with the new CHIPS and Science Law, we are set to lead the world in the industries, and good jobs, of the future.

Ours is a remarkable story of resilience and recovery. I must say, as a former construction worker, I’m not surprised. Working people are proud of their work and who they are. That hasn’t changed.

As I travel the country as Labor Secretary, I talk to workers and jobseekers and – everywhere I go – Americans want a fair chance to earn decent wages, support their families, make meaningful contributions, and achieve financial security.

When I was in Warwick last November, I joined Gov. Dan McKee and Sen. Jack Reed for a tour of the New England Institute of Technology, to discuss highlighting how its workforce development program trains and supports the skilled workforce needed to meet our nation’s shipbuilding needs.

I also accompanied Governor McKee to visit Building Futures, a Providence-based building trades workforce development leader, where we joined key players in Rhode Island’s workforce development system to discuss the needs, challenges and opportunities of the pandemic-era workforce.

Consider the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It’s creating thousands of good-paying jobs that don’t need a college degree. America’s workers are doing what they do best – rebuilding their communities, revitalizing our industries and securing a healthy future for our children.

We’re also reducing inequality. In this recovery, wages have gone up the fastest for workers of color and workers with less than a high school diploma. We are determined to continue this progress. To unlock the full potential in our economy, we must empower all of our nation’s workers, especially those who got shut out in the past.

We advance all our goals now from a position of strength. The Inflation Reduction Act will not only lower costs for working families; it’s also going to create good jobs for years to come. America’s workers – diverse and determined – are going to win our clean energy future.

Every recovery has a lesson to teach. Here’s one for this Labor Day: Never bet against America’s workers.

— Walsh is the U.S. Secretary of Labor and former mayor of Boston.

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