OPINION: Labor Day 2023: A time to reflect on creating an equal workforce for all

U.S. Department of Labor

This Labor Day, we must acknowledge that investments in workforce training are vital to meeting employers’ demands for skilled labor and to creating sustainable, middle-class jobs for all. That includes people who have historically been left behind by public infrastructure investment.

While women make up nearly half of the nation’s workforce and the labor force participation rate of women ages 25-54 is at an all-time high, women are still disproportionally stuck in low-wage jobs. Too often, women can’t access the good-quality jobs that allow them to support a middle-class life.

Since 1920, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau has worked hard to address barriers that keep women from equal opportunities and success in the workforce. This includes providing technical assistance and funding grants to programs that help women enter and thrive in high-paying, nontraditional occupations.

One such program in the St. Louis area is Missouri Women in Trades, which was founded by tradeswomen to help other women gain the confidence and knowledge to be successful in the building trades. The organization works with employers, unions, educational organizations and other allies to improve women’s employment opportunities and working conditions. This work could not be more timely, as Missouri has already received $6.1 billion[i] from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and as a result must fill thousands of skilled trades jobs.

For its part, the Women’s Bureau will continue advocating for better wages and working conditions in key sectors, including the care work sectors that have historically been female-dominated. We will also seek expanded access to paid leave and sick days, and to affordable child care and elder care, which remains a major obstacle to employment equity. Here in St. Louis, families that send their infant children to a care center are spending an average of one-sixth of their household income.

As the nation commemorates another Labor Day, we should also remember that a 21st century workforce can only be successful if everyone benefits. We need local, state and federal leaders and employers to commit to addressing issues such as pay inequity, access to affordable childcare, workplace flexibility, paid leave and training. Together, we can ensure that all people can share in our nation’s continued economic growth.

(Gina Rodriguez in the Chicago Regional Director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. Her responsibilities include the State of Missouri.)

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