America’s getting back to work, and that includes Illinois

Since Joe Biden took office, we’ve added 9.5 million jobs to the economy. The unemployment rate has plunged to 3.5%, matching a 53-year low.

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Members of Chicago Women in Trades are shown here at Federal Plaza in January 2018. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visited the group and other business and labor organizations in Illinois recently.

Members of Chicago Women in Trades are shown here at Federal Plaza in January 2018. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visited the group and other business and labor organizations in Illinois recently.

Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

On Labor Day, we honor the achievements of America’s workers. And in 2022, we have a historic victory to celebrate.

This Labor Day, 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.”

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

The truth is, Americans were eager and ready to get back to work. They just needed the right opportunities, which President Joe 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, in a big way.

Since Biden took office, we’ve added 9.5 million jobs to the economy. The unemployment rate has plunged to 3.5%, matching a 53-year low.

Job growth, widely shared

I visited Illinois last week and met with workers, business and union leaders and elected officials to discuss progress vital to the state’s economy and well-being. I enjoyed the chance to visit Sugar Grove, Chicago and other locations, talking with people who are seizing opportunities to take advantage of our nation’s growing economy, including trainees at Chicago Women in Trades who are building new careers and spearheading an industry movement.

It’s hard-working Illinoisans like those I met who are helping to empower our economy and build a dedicated workforce that has lowered the state unemployment rate to 4.4%.

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.

Health care 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 Act, 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 job-seekers. Everywhere I go, Americans want a fair chance to earn decent wages, support their families, make meaningful contributions and achieve financial security.

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.

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We advance all our goals now from a position of strength. The Inflation Reduction Act will lower costs for working families and create good jobs for years to come. America’s workers — diverse and determined — are going to win our clean energy future.

To honor the workers who made all this possible, this year we inducted “Essential Workers of the Pandemic” into the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor. I was joined on stage by Chicago’s own Jóse Rodriguez, a Pilsen truck driver for J.B. Hunt Transport Inc. Jóse volunteered to drive a critical load of personal protective equipment — gloves, masks and isolation gowns — from O’Hare Airport to a children’s hospital in Tennessee. In the dark days of the pandemic, truck drivers like Jóse worked tirelessly delivering essential goods, and never stopped truckin.’

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

Martin J. Walsh is U.S. secretary of labor.

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