From the U.S. Department of Labor Blog—-
This week, I had the opportunity to testify before three congressional committees about the important work of the Department of Labor on so many issues facing working families. I’ve benefited from a constructive dialogue with members of Congress, especially when it comes to implementing bipartisan solutions like the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
My visits to their districts have been some of the highlights of my time as secretary of labor. I’ve seen (to name just a few) successful apprenticeship programs in action with Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, as well as innovative partnerships to help displaced coal miners in the eastern Kentucky district of Rep. Harold Rogers, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
There’s less than a year to go in this administration – 309 days till the weekend. I want to make every one of those days count, helping create opportunity for as many people as possible. As we prepare for the final 10 months of this administration, it is critical that we chart a road map for the work that remains.
Speaking with members of Congress about our proposed fiscal year 2017 budget allowed me to reaffirm the importance of the work that we do. I believe that budgets are a powerful statement about priorities, and this budget will help the department make critical progress towards those important goals.
Here are just a few of the highlights I shared:
Connecting ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs. Between 2008 and 2014, our employment and training programs served an average of 14 million Americans a year, helping more than half of them get new jobs.
Investing in apprenticeship. This earn-while-you-learn model that helps people get the skills they need to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Every public dollar invested in apprenticeship provides $27 in return. Last year, we made the largest-ever federal investment in apprenticeship − $175 million in grants to public-private partnerships nationwide. And I appreciate Congress appropriating $90 million for these grants in 2016.
Cracking down on wage theft. Our Wage and Hour Division, using a strategic enforcement approach, has been able to secure back wages totaling nearly $1.6 billion for 1.7 million workers since 2009.
Protecting worker safety and health. It’s a false choice to suggest we can have either economic growth orworkplace safety. We can and must have both. So this administration has been vigilant about making sure workers don’t have to risk injury or illness in order to earn their paycheck, whether it’s protecting workers from silica dust or helping reduce mine fatalities in 2015 to their lowest level in history.
Helping more Americans enjoy a secure and dignified retirement. The Labor Department is charged with empowering workers not just during their careers but after their careers are over. Our Employee Benefits Security Administration is working on a number of fronts to ensure that Americans can retire with dignity after a lifetime of hard work, by both promoting access to retirement savings and protecting consumers with a regulatory proposal that would ensure that financial advisers put their clients’ best interests first.
Our nation has come a long way from the depths of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate is down to 4.9 percent. We’ve had six straight years of private-sector job growth, the longest streak on record. As of the end of January, there are 5.5 million job openings across the country (compared to 2.2 million in July of 2009). Initial unemployment claims have been at or below 300,000 per week for more than a year – that hasn’t happened since December 1973.
I’m proud to say that the Labor Department has played an essential role in this strong recovery. And throughout the rest of the year we will continue focusing on the unfinished business of creating shared prosperity and an economy that works for everyone. I look forward to continuing to partnering with members of Congress on that important work.
Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter and Instagram as @LaborSec.