When President Trump declared in his inaugural address, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer," it was not a promise to just one segment of society, but to all Americans. It is a pledge rooted in the belief that all workers have dignity and all work does as well.
From the Beltway to the Bluegrass, from miners who help keep our lights on to coders developing the next time-saving app, I believe all workers deserve the same respect. When the economy grows for everyone, opportunities increase for all to succeed.
Take for instance the encouraging story of Jennifer Higgs. In 2018, she faced an uphill battle to obtain employment due to a criminal record and insufficient training and education. When Jennifer's mother wrote to the White House on her behalf asking for help, Jennifer was quickly referred to the Department of Labor to help find a job.
The staff at the Employment and Training Administration immediately sprang into action to help Jennifer, working closely with the North Carolina Departments of Labor and Commerce and her local American Job Centers to find job placement.
Jennifer was provided with scholarship options, and enrolled in a nine-month HVAC program at Montgomery Community College. Two weeks before graduation, Jennifer was hired by a local HVAC company where she now works as a technician.
Stories like Jennifer's highlight the character of the American workforce. Perhaps most importantly, when the forgotten men and women of our country need a second chance, our communities rally together to offer an opportunity.
The Department of Labor is doing its part to expand opportunities for those like Jennifer, as well as the countless others looking for a job.
One key department initiative is to expand apprenticeships so that employers can train workers with the skills needed for success. The Department of Labor has also committed more than $280 million to equip workers with the skills needed for the next generation economy, and provide affordable paths to good jobs.
After the completion of an apprenticeship the average starting wage is $70,000 and 94 percent of apprentices will retain employment. Programs like these provide immense benefit to job-seekers and a more skilled workforce for employers. Apprenticeship opportunities are easy to find at apprenticeship.gov.
The Department of Labor is equally committed to assisting those transitioning out of the justice system and providing a pathway to work to improve public safety. This year, the Employment and Training Administration awarded $85.9 million in Reentry Project grants to 45 non-profits working to improve employment outcomes for adults and juveniles in the criminal justice system.
We also recognize the importance of supporting workers affected by the opioid crisis. The department awarded more than $30 million to states to help people affected by opioid addiction rejoin the workforce. In March 2018, ETA awarded $22 million to use fidelity bonds to combat the workforce-related challenges caused by widespread abuse of opioids.
Successfully helping people find a job could only happen because of the strong economy created by this administration's focus on removing barriers to opportunity for all Americans.
Since January 2017, 5.7 million jobs have been added to the economy. The unemployment rate has remained at or below 4 percent for 17 months in a row. And in a remarkable achievement, there are now more job openings in the United States than there are job seekers, a testament to the success of the Trump administration's policies.
There has never been a better time to find a job than now, and the Department of Labor is committed to lifting up all Americans, especially the forgotten men and women of America.
John P. Pallasch is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.