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America's Workers: A Worthwhile Investment
Jan 6, 2017

Essay by Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez

The Department of Labor's mission statement never more urgent than in a time of economic crisis, like the one President Obama inherited when he took office in 2009. In the three months before his inauguration, the economy hemorrhaged roughly 2.3 million jobs. The U.S. auto industry was flat on its back and at risk of going under. A housing crisis was devastating families and communities. Among workers fortunate enough to keep their job, chances are they had not seen a meaningful raise in years.

The crisis touched everyone and devastated many. Katherine Hackett, a Connecticut mother of two soldiers, got a pink slip after a long career in the health care industry and found herself out of work for more than a year. She wore a winter coat around the house because she could not afford to turn the thermostat above 58 degrees. She told me that she felt a "poverty of spirit." But thanks to Katherine's grit and determination --and assistance from a workforce system that had kicked into high gear and enabled her to access training opportunities -- she is now excelling in a new job.

The administration has overseen a remarkable recovery, and millions of Americans like Katherine Hackett have successfully climbed out of the worst economic crisis in generations. The Labor Department is proud to have played a central role by making targeted investments in the American workforce and renewing our focus on addressing wage and safety violations that undermine shared prosperity.

But despite a strong recovery, too many people aren't yet able to share fully in the prosperity that they help create. Like the fast food worker I met in Detroit who had been evicted from her apartment and was sleeping in her car with her three kids. Like the baggage handler in New Jersey who described to me the pain he felt when he had to tell his son he couldn't afford to buy him a birthday present. Like the school bus driver in Connecticut who had to take her baby on her route because she didn't have paid family leave.

For the last eight years, the hardworking men and women at the Department of Labor have used the tools at our disposal to help these workers and others like them. Together, we have made great progress, but we also know there's more to do to push back on decades-long trends, and that the department is well positioned to continue to pursue this important work after we have passed the baton.

Learn more about the department's accomplishments by reading our Memorandum to the American People.