Labor Secretary: Job training, child care would be ‘transformative’

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

President Joe Biden’s sweeping economic agenda will make transformative, “once-in-a-generation” investments that will strengthen and create new opportunities and pathways into the middle class, said U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh during a visit to Dayton on Tuesday afternoon.

A bipartisan bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate will make crucial investments in infrastructure, clean drinking water and broadband access, and the reconciliation bill will provide billions of dollars for job training and the “care economy,” including child care and caregiving, said Walsh, who made stops at a local job corps center, a child care center and a drug treatment facility.

“I’m here today to say we’re on the verge of something great happening for our country,” he said during a roundtable with child care professionals, parents, educators, and local leaders, including Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

Critics claim Biden’s agenda involves massive amounts of borrowing that could worsen an unsustainable fiscal situation. Some Republicans say the bill is a “liberal wish list” that includes “job-killing” tax increases.

Walsh, who was selected as labor secretary earlier this year, previously was a state representative, the former mayor of Boston and a former union leader.

Walsh said he is using this tour to hear people’s ideas for strengthening the economy and improving pathways into the middle class.

Walsh’s first local stop was at the Dayton Jobs Corp Center, where he spoke with students and instructors.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The U.S. Department of Labor purchased the Jobs Corp Center site in the late 1970s, and the program helps disadvantaged youth become self-sufficient and career ready.

Walsh said he hopes to return to Dayton after Biden’s bills are passed to see the kinds of opportunities these investments create.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate voted 69 to 30 to approve an infrastructure bill that makes investments in roads, bridges, rail, transit, ports, aviation facilities, water systems and broadband.

The bill includes about $550 billion in new spending over the next five years, which is the largest federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade.

Democrats are pushing for a $3.5 trillion spending resolution that is not expected to get any Republican support. But House Democrats are fighting over which bill to pass first and the timeline for getting both approved.

The Biden administration claims the President’s agenda will create jobs and lower child care, prescription drug, housing and higher education costs for working families.

The White House also said that improving access to child care, long-term care and paid and family leave would increase labor force participation, boost businesses’ profits and reduce the burdens on caregivers.

Walsh said he’s regularly asked why more people aren’t returning to the workforce.

He said the problem isn’t generous unemployment benefits. He said the real issue is lack of child care, schools being closed and COVID-19 fears.

He also said many workers don’t want to return to the same lower-quality jobs they had before the pandemic.

He said the budget framework includes $400 billion for the “cares economy.” Expanded job training should help get people better-paying work, he said.

The President’s plan says that low- and middle-income families will have to spend no more than 7% of their income on high-quality child care for young children.

Child care is first and foremost education for young children during the most important time for brain development, in their early years, said Robyn Lightcap, executive director of Preschool Promise, who took part in the roundtable.

But child care needs to be funded correctly as education ― not babysitting, said Lightcap, adding that child care educators on average earn $11 per hour in Montgomery County.

“That’s just not acceptable,” she said.

Chloe Morgan, a 30-year-old single mother of four children, said it’s hard to trust the quality of child care services when the workers aren’t adequately compensated.

Morgan, who participated in the roundtable, also takes care of her mother, who is totally disabled.

Morgan said around 2015, when she only had two kids, she was paying $1,200 per month on child care.

She said she only made $1,400 per month at Walmart, and received about $950 per month in child support.

“You do the math: How do I pay rent, how do I pay my child care, and then any other bills, gas, electric, insurance, how do you live ― you can’t,” she said. “There is no way you can live and work.”

Morgan said she ended up paying her sister-in-law $600 per month, which was far too little for the wet nurse responsibilities she shouldered.

Walsh said President Biden’s priorities also include raising the federal minimum wage and bringing back American manufacturing. Walsh said he’s talked to Mayor Whaley about how job training is the best way to improve people’s economic opportunities.

“As I drive Ohio, as I drove around Indiana yesterday and we’re going to West Virginia tomorrow, I go through too many towns that say, that used to be a factory, that used to be a mill, that used to be this, this used to be that,” he said. “For the people who live here in the city of Dayton, giving them an opportunity to earn and get better job training and to skill up to get better jobs is key.”

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