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Labor Secretary Marty Walsh called the first jobs report of his tenure on Friday "encouraging" after payrolls rose by 916,000 but told Yahoo Finance that there's more work to do to improve the U.S. labor market.
"It's an encouraging sign today, but we certainly have more work to be done here. The unemployment rate is 6%. We still have almost eight and a half million Americans out of work," Walsh told Yahoo Finance's editor-in-chief, Andy Serwer, on Friday, less than two weeks after the former mayor of Boston was confirmed as Labor Secretary.
"The unemployment rate in the Black community is 9.6%," he added. "So we still have a lot of work to do here."
Friday's jobs report beat analysts' expectations on Friday, bringing in 916,000 new jobs versus the 660,000 new jobs that were expected. Still, at 6%, the unemployment remains far higher than it was prior to the pandemic, when it hovered around 3.5%. The jobless rate for Hispanics and Blacks was even higher for March, at 7.9% and 9.6% respectively, as Walsh mentioned in his interview.
'We're seeing more women go back into the workforce'
While Walsh said he remains concerned about the ability of people of color to secure jobs, he was reassured that the jobless rate for women improved slightly for the month of March, at 5.7% versus 5.9%. The pandemic struck an outsize blow on female workers, many of whom have shouldered domestic responsibilities and work in fields like retail and leisure and hospitality that have been battered by the recession.
In March, though, the labor force participation rate edged up for women from 56.3% to 56.6%, while it went slightly down for men. "We're seeing more women go back into the workforce, but we still have work, there's still a lot of work to do in this country," Walsh said.
The jobs report Friday was largely hailed by analysts as a harbinger of an economic recovery. Indeed economic research director Nick Bunker, like, Walsh, acknowledged that we "still have a long way to go." But, he said, "This is exactly what we need to see."
John Hancock Investment Management co-chief investment strategist Emily Roland was even more enthusiastic in an interview with Yahoo Finance Live on Friday. "This report is awesome," she said.
'Good paying jobs for the future'
For his part, Walsh is touting President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan unveiled Wednesday as a tool to boost the labor market, particularly for communities of color who have faced a higher jobless rate than whites.
That plan, which will largely be funded by boosting the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, proposes a host of measures to not only fix the nation's crumbling infrastructure but to also invest in so-called human infrastructure. That includes higher pay for crucial but low-paid workers like home health care workers.
Walsh hopes the plan gets people in the U.S. "back into the workforce, and create real opportunities that are good paying good jobs for the future," he said.
In his interview with Yahoo Finance on Friday, Walsh also commented on a union vote underway at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama. "I think everyone, everyone in this country should have the right to join a union if they feel they want to join a union, and everybody who has an opportunity to take a vote on that should have that right to take a vote vote," he said.
Walsh, who served as Democratic mayor of Boston from 2014 to 2021, is the former head of the Boston Building Trades Council, making him the first union leader to serve in the position in nearly 45 years. He stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, a longtime corporate lawyer whom the New Yorker described as "a wrecking ball aimed at workers."
Erin Fuchs is deputy managing editor at Yahoo Finance.