By Tanya Wallace-Gobern
Recently, Trump signed an executive order to establish a council and an advisory board in order to help address “urgent” challenges facing the U.S. workforce. Anyone who’s been paying attention to how he’s handled worker’s issues since his inauguration should be wary of this announcement, considering he attempted to gut the Labor Department’s funding by 21 percent just two months into his presidency.
Proposed cuts like these not only prove Trump’s clear commitment to hurting the working class, they would also directly hinder the agency’s ability to provide training and employment services to Black workers who already disproportionately struggle with unemployment, underemployment, low-wage work and discriminatory job policies.
President Barack Obama had a $175 million apprentice grant program, which may make this announcement seem both familiar and positive at a surface level. However, the timing of this workforce initiative looks like a clear lose-lose for workers whose organizing abilities are simultaneously being slashed by Trump as he continues to support both anti-union, anti-worker policies and policymakers.
Upcoming board appointees for the National Council for the American Worker are also a key concern that we should watch out for in the near future, as Trump does not have a history of appointing folks who are advocates for and knowledgeable of the struggles that Black people and the working poor experience.
Of course, there’s the elephant in the room — the fact that Trump, and his entire cabinet including his own family members, really enjoy lying to the American people. Just the other day, Ivanka Trump — who will apparently be involved in the workforce committee — claimed that the economy is strong because the number of people in the workforce has gone up since Trump’s election, when in reality there are less people working.
We can’t let Trump and his cohorts trick us into thinking that the economy is doing well when in reality Black folks are still facing a multi-dimensional jobs crisis. It’s easy to believe statements like Ivanka’s when they’re presented with confidence, but we need to keep our eyes and ears open and make sure what’s being presented on TV is what our families, neighbors and friends are experiencing.
We can start by looking at the facts. The fact that “Black Women’s Equal Pay Day” takes place in August to represent the number of extra days women must work to earn as much as men illustrates the unique challenges faced by Black workers — and Black women, specifically. Right now, Black women graduate with the most student debt in the United States — yet are paid only 63 cents on every White man’s dollar. Our reality is that even those of us with graduate degrees take until the following August to earn what our White, male counterparts earn in December every year. It’s time for us to demand more in order to change what has become our status quo.
Black men, too, face challenges in the labor force. It was recently reported that the wage gap between Black men and White men is growing even wider.
Real investment in the American workforce must include full-employment accessibility for workers, free training, priority hiring status, inclusion of the formerly incarcerated, accountability measures to ensure equal opportunity in admittance to trainings, and quality wages. It’s now more important than ever for Black folks and our allies to hold Trump accountable as he moves forward with the advisory council.
At the end of the day, we should be building structures and creating committees that benefit the hard workers of America. We should be investing in the people who keep this country running every single day. But we also need to hold the people in power accountable, and make sure they’re addressing the unique challenges faced by Black workers.
Tanya Wallace-Gobern is the executive director of the National Black Worker Center Project, which seeks to empower Black workers to advance their rights and improve the quality of jobs in key employment sectors.