Governor John Bel Edwards gave an impassioned speech to 2018 Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) Labor Summit attendees on Friday, March 24th, lauding Louisiana’s unemployment numbers, but encouraging public servants and citizens generally not to forget how far Louisiana must go to create equitable employment opportunities for all.
Ava Dejoie, LWC Executive Director, introduced Governor Edwards in glowing terms, telling the roughly 250 assembled participants at the New Orleans Marriott how she and other members of Edwards’ cabinet are inspired by his dedication to the people of Louisiana on a daily basis. Attendees rose from their chairs en masse as Edwards entered, applauding for over a minute.
“We’re proud of an awful lot that’s going on in Louisiana, we truly have a lot of momentum, and we obviously have our share of challenges as well,” Edwards began. “I’m confident that we’re going to meet those challenges, and get them addressed, and continue to have increased prosperity and opportunity for people across Louisiana.”
Edwards went on to focus on the positive first, citing the latest unemployment data for the state as a major plus. “I am very proud to tell you that, announced earlier today, the unemployment rate in Louisiana dropped once again, to 4.5 percent,” Edwards said, to more applause. “That is the second largest decline year over year (February of this year to February of last year) in the nation…Isn’t that what we’re all here for? To make sure our children and grandchildren have more opportunity than we did? And by the way, we want that opportunity right here in Louisiana, we don’t want folks tempted to leave our state. Now if they want to do that, God bless ‘em, but if they need to do that, we failed”
Governor Edwards also mentioned Louisiana’s low workplace injury rate (second in the nation next to Washington D.C.) and investment in apprenticeship programs, including nationally certified apprenticeship partners Dow Chemical and Ochsner Health System, as bright spots in the state’s labor market.
However, these uplifting facts did not come without a hearty reality check. Edwards voiced his disappointment in several areas of Louisiana’s employment culture that he believes must change if the state he leads is to be successful in the 21st Century economy. “We are nowhere near the finish line, this is not mission accomplished,” he said.
In particular, Edwards pointed to the gender pay gap and the minimum wage as areas that are keeping Louisianans from reaching their full potential.
As part of the solution, he promoted Regina Barrow’s SB 455, which would create a “coordinated multi-agency strategic plan” to lift Louisiana families out of poverty. “There is no reason that so many families in Louisiana struggle to make ends meet in 2018. The cost of living continues to go up, and working families are looking to us for help,” he said.
“We are also taking steps to address the largest gender wage gap in the country,” Edwards continued. “Everybody in this room ought to be offended by that, not just the ladies. On average a woman, who is similarly situated to a male counterpart and doing a substantially similar job, is earning 66 cents on the dollar. And for women of color, it’s about 48 cents on the dollar. That’s offensive. If we really want to lift children out of poverty, we can start by paying their parents a fair wage. You hear a lot about family values, it’s time we start valuing families” he said, to more applause.
Governor Edwards also endorsed bills in the current session during his speech that would increase transparency in the discussion of pay between employees, and an increase of the state minimum wage, citing Alabama’s minimum wage increase as a point of comparison and the fact that even Wal-Mart does not pay employees less than eight dollars an hour.
Edwards ended his brief address by thanking Dejoie and the Workforce Commission, and all of the attendees that work to employ Louisianans.
Image Credit: Gov. John Bel Edwards via Twitter