A Message from U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to the Next Generation Workforce


We’re speaking today
with Tom Perez, the Secretary of Labor
for the United States Department of Labor. So thank you, Mr.
Secretary, for joining us. Oh, it’s a pleasure
to be with you. Maybe you could
talk a little bit about what’s changed
since you and I entered the labor force
a number of years ago. I’m thinking about a
good friend of mine whose dad graduated
high school, went to work at Bethlehem Steel,
and worked there for 42 years. And as we fast
forward to today, it is much less frequent to
see someone at a job for 30, 40 years like our
parents’ generation. And once again, you look in
the world of manufacturing just to take one example. The jobs of today are quite
different than the jobs of yesterday. And frankly, in many
cases, a high school degree simply won’t suffice. And so my parents
always taught me education is the
great equalizer. It’s what made
America a superpower. This commitment to free public
elementary and secondary education, and today we need
to keep that investment. Maybe we could focus on some
of the current challenges and opportunities. We’re coming out of
this great recession, the worst since the
Great Depression. The economy’s been growing, but
not everyone is sharing equally in benefits of the growth. What accounts for
where we are today? Well, it’s always important
to look at where we were, where we are, and
where we need to go. The rising tide of progress
in the late ’90s that we saw lifted more boats. Today, that rising tide
isn’t lifting as many boats as it needs to. We need to make sure that
everybody has that chance, and one of the biggest
challenges in this context is addressing the issue of
stubbornly stagnant wages. And that’s not
simply a phenomenon of the great recession. For decades, productivity
growth and real wage growth rose hand in hand. And then starting around
1980, that began to change. And we see productivity
increases of over 90% and real wage
growth of 2% or 3%. And that’s unfair to workers. Workers have helped bake
the pie of prosperity, but their sweat equity
hasn’t translated into financial equity for them. And so too many people haven’t
gotten a raise in years. Too many people are
working two, three jobs. One of the best family
values is the value of time spent with your
family, and folks just don’t have enough
time to do that. We could talk a little bit,
perhaps, about how we can get wages and high quality jobs
moving in the right direction. And I know you are
an ardent advocate for the administration– for the country– about the
importance of skills and skill development. I wonder if you could say
what your thoughts are on what workers might do and
what kind of opportunities we need to provide for workers
to keep those skills current so that people can adapt over time. You look at the data and
the education dividend is undeniable. The more education you have,
the greater the chances are that you can punch your
ticket to the middle class and then stay there. It’s important to
recognize that there are multiple educational
pathways to the middle class. Some people graduate
high school and go to college, but other people– especially when I was growing
up in Buffalo– a lot of folks went through the
apprenticeship route. And that route, if you go
to places like Germany, has equal stature with
the four-year route. And here in America,
we’ve devalued that over the course
of recent decades. And that’s why this
president, and we at the Department of Labor,
are trying to change that. And I’ve met so many folks who
have completed apprenticeship programs, whether it’s the
traditional skilled trades, whether it’s IT, whether
it’s in the health sectors. These are alternative
pathways to higher ed, and many of these
folks who complete apprenticeships then get
an associate’s degree at a community college and
then go to a four-year college. So it’s important
as people think about that pathway to upscaling
to recognize that there are multiple entry
points, and they all lead to core competencies
that enable you to compete and thrive, not only
in today’s economy, but in tomorrow’s economy. Well, I think your
work on apprenticeships is so important because
the evidence is so clear on how well they pay off. For every dollar we
invest in apprenticeship, the return is
something like $27. I wish every investment we
made had that kind of return. One of the concepts that
we use in this course is the term social
contract, and you’ve been an articulate
proponent of a strong voice for the American workforce. I wonder if you could speak
a bit about the role of voice in our economy, and
what it means to workers and what it means
to our society. It’s not a coincidence in
my mind that the periods in our nation’s history– in
the 20th century for instance– where you had decade after
decade of real wage growth didn’t just coincide but
coexisted with a period of time where workers had
a collective voice. Where you had much
higher union density. Where people could advocate. America’s greatest
generation who fought in World War II–
millions of them came home, and what did they do? They worked
collectively once again in the workplace to
fight for fair wages. And what we I think have
lost today is too many folks have bought into
this false choice of you either take care
of your shareholder or you take care of your
worker, but you can’t do both. I categorically reject that,
and it is indeed a false choice. You look at places
like the Ford Motor Company, an existential
crisis in the great recession. And what happened? The UAW and Ford got
together around a plan of shared sacrifice leading
to shared prosperity. So I visited a plant in
Louisville, Kentucky, that makes the Ford Escape. And in 2007, they were
down to about 700 workers. They weren’t sure
if they were going to shutter the plant entirely. And as a result of
that cooperation, you see shared sacrifice
leading to shared prosperity. And today, they’re 4,400
employees and growing, and that doesn’t include
the supply chain. So when the workers have
a voice, America succeeds. There are many ways to
give voice to workers. Unions are certainly one way. There are also a
number of nonprofits that are working with taxicab
drivers and home health workers and fast food workers. Nonprofits that are very
agile, and they’re really standing up for low wage
workers trying to give voice. There are a lot of
headwinds in this issue. There are courts
right now that are hostile to efforts to organize. There’s hostile
state legislatures right now that are making it
hard for public sector workers to move forward. There are well-heeled
multi-billionaires who are spending a lot of
money trying to muzzle voice. But these forces
existed 100 years ago. We’ve defeated these before. The arc of the moral
universe has always bent toward justice
and toward those who seek to expand opportunity. But it doesn’t bend on its own. I’m wondering if you
would like to conclude with your own advice for the
next generation workforce. First of all, I think education
is the great equalizer. So you want to make sure that
you have the skills to compete today and tomorrow. Secondly, you need
to find your passion. Happiest is the person whose
job is his or her hobby because then you never have
to work a day in your life. Third, you need to reject
these false choices of those who suggest that if you burn
out your neighbor’s candle, that will make your
candle shine brighter. That’s never been who
we are as a nation. We’ve always been a community
recognizing that we all succeed only when we all succeed. We rise and fall on the
strength of our middle class and the strength of our
ladders of opportunity to the middle class. And so I want everyone– all
your students– to make sure they understand that
opportunities abound. And low wages and
no benefits are a choice that
companies make, not a necessity born out of
globalization or technology advances. These are choices. And you need to make that choice
as a student to get involved and to exert leadership. Well, a very, very powerful
statement, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for all you
do and for everyone here at the Department of Labor
does for the current generation workforce, and for
all of those to come. Well, it’s an honor. Take care. Thanks again.

3 thoughts on “A Message from U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to the Next Generation Workforce”

  1. The way people learn has evolved while the testing/certification process has not is a large contributor to the problem. Take for example iv spent most of my life constantly educating myself. And could prob test out of several bachelors degrees. there is no way for people such as myself to test out of what we know or be able to equate our knowledge to a tangible representation of us. On paper all i can show is a GED. In reality I'v sat through more hours of opencourseware than alot of people with degrees have time in education. this means that people with a nice piece of paper are in some instances being taken over those with far greater knowledge in those positions. Also iv seen what is being produced by some of these schools. The teaching methods are severly lacking in some instances. I'll give a simple example. I was working with a refueling system in a previous profession. It broke. I wasn't "certified" to be able to fix it(yet prob could have). We hired "engineers" to look at it. They couldn't even figure out the flow direction And the entire pipe system was covered in arrows indicating flow.

  2. Unfortunately, most people are unable to be in some other person's shoe. This causes lack of empathy for the less fortunate. The outsourcing of jobs only benefits the few, the heads of corporations and billionaires who abuse their workers for their self interest. Globalization is the making of the rich to get richer in the expense of others. The jobs of future in USA will not be science or engineering because it is easy to outsource technology jobs to India and China. This has been done in a pervasive way in the last decade. Software engineer average salaries have dropped by more than 10%. In USA as jobs being outsourced and more H1b visas are issued. There are Plumers, carpenters, electricians that make better money than many engineers as their services can not be outsourced.

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