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Biden administration takes new steps to address job quality amid record-setting resignations

<i>BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/AFP via Getty Images</i><br/>Biden administration takes new steps to address job quality amid record-setting resignations.
AFP via Getty Images
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Biden administration takes new steps to address job quality amid record-setting resignations.

By Maegan Vazquez, CNN

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced a new federal roadmap to improve job quality and job access on Friday, as Americans continue to leave the workforce in record numbers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The program, called the Good Jobs Initiative, was unveiled by Walsh — the former mayor of Boston — at the US Conference of Mayors winter meeting in Washington. The initiative, led by the Labor Department, will establish a broad framework across the federal government to inform workers of their rights — including their right to collectively bargain, engage employers in improving jobs to retain workers and deploy federal agencies to bolster the plan.

“We are going to work across federal agencies to build job quality into all our contracting and grant making. That means not just minimum wage — but prevailing wages, paid leave, registered apprenticeship, pre-apprenticeships, that open up opportunities for women and people of color and underserved communities all across this great country,” Walsh said during his speech at the meeting. “We’re going to engage employers to help them improve job quality, so every industry can attract and retain the talent they need. We’re going to speak directly to workers — making sure they have the information they need to exercise their rights, to find a good job, and get in-demand skills.”

The new initiative comes as America’s job market is facing complex and consequential shifts — dubbed by some as the “great resignation.”

While the country no longer faces the record high unemployment rate seen at the start of the pandemic, there’s a labor shortage — leading many workplaces to struggle to keep up with demand.

A record 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November, but many of those departures are young people leaving for other jobs or better pay.

Still, labor force participation — meaning the number of people in the US working or looking for a job — hasn’t improved at the same pace as the decline in unemployment since the pandemic.

While there have been a variety of issues leading to Americans to exit the workforce, early retirement has made a major impact. Nearly 70% of the 5 million people who left the labor force during the pandemic were older than 55, according to researchers from Goldman Sachs, with many not wanting to return to work.

There are also other factors impacting the labor market, like the many women who were forced to drop out of the labor force during the pandemic who have not returned and the rising number of people saying they’re self-employed.

In an interview before announcing the Good Jobs Initiative, Walsh contended that many Americans are leaving their jobs because they want more from their employers.

“I don’t think ‘the great resignation’ is the real story when you look (at the fact that) more people joined the workforce last year than any time last 25 years,” Walsh told CNN. “But I think a lot of people did leave the workforce because they weren’t earning good wages and, for whatever reason, decided to leave.”

The genesis of the initiative, Walsh said, was the sweeping bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was signed into law last fall. A priority of the initiative will be to support the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law, providing guidance on jobs created through infrastructure investments, according to the Labor Department.

“We want to ensure that while implementing the bipartisan infrastructure law, the jobs that are created are high-paying, good quality jobs, and make sure people have access,” he said.

Additionally, the initiative will centralize agencies’ efforts to provide technical assistance on many job quality standards across the federal government, including anti-discrimination requirements, equal employment opportunity requirements in apprenticeships and supporting environments for free and fair union organizing and collective bargaining, according to the Labor Department. DOL will also partner with the White House to support agencies in their efforts.

In addition to the federal efforts, Walsh on Friday invited mayors to partner with the Biden administration on the initiative, and told CNN he plans to speak to governors next week about states’ involvement.

In another federal effort this week aimed at supporting workers amid the pandemic, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced it will award $103 million to help retain health care workers by strengthening long-term efforts to reduce burnout and to promote mental health.

The money for the services comes as about one in four hospitals in the US are reporting a “critical staffing shortage,” more than most of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to data from HHS.

The funding, part of the American Rescue Plan passed into law last spring, will be “disbursed to numerous organizations that oversee evidence-informed programs and practices and training. The focus will be on providers who do service in underserved and rural communities,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a press conference on Thursday.

DOL and the Department of Transportation also announced new initiatives earlier this month aimed at addressing truck driver shortages and retaining drivers, which comes amid a supply chain crunch nationwide.

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Naomi Thomas, Allison Morrow and Anneken Tappe contributed to this report.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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