On his first day in office, President Biden issued a historic charge to all federal agencies: First, assess how well government programs are reaching historically underserved communities — including people of color and others who have been underserved, marginalized, and affected by persistent poverty and inequality. And then, change our programs so that we are delivering resources and benefits more equitably to all. As Secretary of Labor, I have made advancing equity a priority in everything our department does for workers — morning, noon and night.
For far too long, our economy has left far too many workers behind. I see this every month in our jobs report, which regularly shows how unemployment rates for workers of color remain stubbornly high. I see this in enforcement data, which shows how immigrants, workers of color and women are more vulnerable to wage and hour violations. And I see it in the department’s data on occupational segregation, which shows how workers of color, workers with disabilities and women are all too frequently excluded from good-paying jobs that offer upward mobility.
For these reasons, we’ve been working since the start of the administration to improve our reach into underserved communities. This will not just help those marginalized, underserved or disadvantaged workers. It will help all of us, by unlocking more economic potential and growth for everyone.
Today, I’m releasing the Department of Labor’s Equity Action Plan, which summarizes some of the important work we’ve done over the past year to advance equity for all workers and sets out our next steps in several key programs, including our enforcement of wage and hour laws, access to unemployment insurance benefits, the design of our apprenticeship and training programs, and our ability to serve workers in more languages. Some of the early work that is already making a difference includes:
Making grants more equitable. We’re hanging how we design, promote, and administer grants to target new grantees, especially small, new, or emerging community-based organizations, and encouraging grantees to serve hard-to-reach and historically underserved communities. You can read more about these efforts on our new grants website.
Supporting states in advancing equity in joint programs. This includes training programs and unemployment insurance. We have launched two new grant programs, totaling over $270 million, to help states expand access to unemployment insurance benefits for populations that have struggled to access timely benefits in the past. Last year, we also awarded more than $130 million in grants to help states expand registered apprenticeship programming and retention strategies to reach a more diverse workforce.
Building stronger partnerships with community-based organizations. By partnering with organizations that have trusted relationships with and reach into traditionally underserved populations, we’re helping workers better understand their workplace rights and expand access to employment and training-related benefits and services. These partnerships can also help us better understand the needs faced by specific communities. You can read more about innovative partnerships at agencies like our Wage and Hour Division, Women’s Bureau and Office of Disability Employment Policy.
Understanding and improving data we collect. We’re improving how we collect and analyze data on the populations we serve, so that we can get a better picture of the workers our programs and initiatives are reaching and any gaps we need to address. For instance, we are learning how to better measure racial and ethnic differences in who receives unemployment insurance benefits, so that we can design programs that address these gaps.
I’m proud of the work that the department has already done, which has channeled energy, ideas and support from all of our staff across all of our agencies. And I’m excited to continue this vital work in the months to come.
Marty Walsh is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.