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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the 3rd American Workforce Policy Advisory Board at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, D.C.


Thank you, Ivanka, for that kind introduction.

I hope that everyone got a good night’s rest after our memorable evening in Camp David.I hope you also indulged yourselves at the gift shop. Every little bit of sales helps the economy. I am wearing my Camp David cuff links from a prior visit.

Thank you, Jim, for hosting us today and showcasing this fine facility. It is great to be with such fine young members of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, Fauquier, and Atlanta. The more time you spend with America’s youth, the more optimistic you are for the future of our country.

Thank you, also, to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America for recently becoming a national partner for the 2020 Census. Yours is a trusted voice in communities around the country that will help the Census Bureau connect with hard-to-count communities. Your partnership ensures an accurate and complete count of the American population next year.

It will also provide a unique learning opportunity for teens as census takers. They will participate in one of our country’s most important civic engagements, and learn important work skills. For many of them, it will be their first — or one of their first — paychecks. Earning money is a good habit for them to adopt. 

The government is facing the same difficulty as the private sector: We must hire close to 500,000 census workers in a tight labor market. But we are fortunate the U.S. economy is strong and steady. The unemployment rate is just 3.7 percent, the lowest it’s been since 1969.

Average hourly earnings are also growing at their fastest pace since 1969. They are up at a 4.2 percent annualized rate over the past three months. The 7.2 million job openings well outpace the 6 million job seekers. To fill these openings, we must bring more skilled workers into the labor market.

Since President Trump was sworn into office, labor force participation among prime-age adults has improved, bringing 1.5 million more people into the labor market. For the economy to grow at least at 3 percent per year, we need working-age population growth, workforce participation growth, and productivity gains to also add up to 3 percent. With our working-age population growing at sub 1 percent, the other two must grow at 2-plus percent. This only will be achieved if participation continues to improve. 

Reducing the skills mis-match is key to achieving this growth. But, for some populations and some regions, labor-force participation remains stubbornly flat — to the point that it constrains business growth. The urgency to address our national labor shortages is real, and for that reason, Ivanka and I called upon you all to begin to deliver actionable recommendations today, in just the third meeting of this Advisory Board.

We will spend most of this meeting reviewing and discussing the recommendations from each working group. The co-chairs will have about 20 minutes each to present the recommendations for each of the four working groups. We will discuss the recommendations after each presentation. After that, I will open the floor for additional thoughts from each of you before holding a voice vote on each working group’s recommendation.

Thank you, again, for your devotion to this board. The leadership of our eight co-chairs, is truly appreciated.