Eight weeks ago, in his State of the Union address, President Obama described his North Star: a thriving middle class with ladders of opportunity for everyone willing to work to get there. He posed three questions that he said should guide all of our decision-making: How do we make America a magnet for jobs? How do we equip U.S. workers with the skills to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that an honest day’s work leads to a decent living?
With those questions in mind, the president released a budget this morning that makes the investments necessary to create middle-class jobs and strengthen the economy, while still moving us toward long-term deficit reduction. It’s not an either/or proposition. We don’t have to sacrifice investments in a strong middle class and a growing economy on the altar of deficit reduction. The president’s budget offers a balanced plan that accomplishes both.
Our Labor Department budget is central to the President’s goals. It focuses on key investments in these critical areas:
- Building the skills of American workers
- Turning our unemployment system into a re-employment system
- Putting veterans back to work
- Protecting American workers and their benefits
On the skills front, the president is proposing an $8 billion investment in community college partnerships with employers to ensure that workers get the skills they need for jobs that are available today and will be around long into the future. This new and substantial investment will build on the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program administered by the department’s Employment and Training Administration. The president is also proposing a Universal Displaced Worker Program that offers a better path to re-employment for more than 1 million workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. To ensure that workers can acquire the skills they need to compete successfully, UDW would reform and consolidate two existing Labor Department programs to provide more personalized services and a streamlined process. UDW would provide a simple and efficient route to get workers back into jobs.
But we must also invest in helping the long-term unemployed find the jobs they need to work their way back into the middle class. To that end, the president is also proposing “Re-employment NOW,” an initiative that will allow states to connect those receiving Emergency Unemployment Compensation with job opportunities. These proposals, and others in this budget, build on reforms to the Unemployment Insurance system proposed last year − the first major reforms in 40 years. They provided states with more flexibility to respond to changes in the economy, equipped employers with tools to avoid layoffs and helped the unemployed get back to work faster. The budget also proposes reforms to strengthen the solvency of the UI system.
President Obama has said: “We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. It’s a commitment that begins at enlistment, and it must never end.” That commitment includes helping veterans and transitioning service members find good middle-class jobs. The Labor Department is leading those efforts.
Our budget includes substantial increases across a number of programs to better serve veterans and transitioning service members. An additional $38 million investment would fund more local veterans employment representatives to improve employment services to veterans in almost 3,000 American Job Centers across the country. Of the $150 million requested for the Workforce Innovation Fund, $50 million would be dedicated to finding more effective models for helping veterans, family members of active duty personnel, and members of the National Guard and reserves to find civilian employment.
On the worker protection front, we have funding increases for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect whistleblowers; for the Mine Safety and Health Administration to bolster its enforcement programs; for the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to crack down on gender-based wage discrimination; and for the Wage and Hour Division to ensure that workers receive appropriate wages, overtime pay, and job-protected family and medical leave.
Our budget is a critical ingredient in the Obama administration’s plan to grow the economy from the middle class out, not from the top down. The investments we make at the Labor Department will help create good jobs, upgrade workers’ skills so that they can succeed in those jobs, and make sure Americans can support their families with decent wages and secure benefits.
Today’s release is just the beginning of a conversation I invite you to join. Click here to participate in a public Web chat at 2:45 p.m. EDT today (Wednesday, April 10), where you can ask me and other leaders in the department specific questions about our budget proposal. Questions also can be submitted via Twitter using the hashtag #DOLbudget.
Seth Harris is the acting secretary of labor.