Throughout our nation’s history, often in times of war or economic crisis, critical investments have driven much-needed job creation — leaving both our nation’s infrastructure and our nation’s workforce stronger.
When President Abraham Lincoln started construction on the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War, to connect the East Coast to the West, jobs opened up for blacksmiths and carpenters. When President Herbert Hoover started construction on the Hoover Dam during the Great Depression, to generate power for multiple states, unemployed workers flocked to Nevada to join the team.
As we emerge from the pandemic, at least 10 million Americans are still unemployed — many worked in lower-wage jobs and more than 4 million have been out of work for more than 27 weeks.
Recently, President Joe Biden announced the American Jobs Plan. Through a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure — one that will rebuild our nation and strengthen our economic foundation — this plan will create millions of jobs. In fact, this plan represents the biggest American jobs investment since World War II.
American Jobs Plan will create good jobs
There is, however, one big difference between the jobs this plan creates and past infrastructure efforts. The laborers who risked their lives to build the railroad earned next to nothing. The Hoover Dam workforce lived in a camp known as “Ragtown” and were prevented from unionizing. And some workers — particularly women and workers of color — were locked out of these projects altogether.
The American Jobs Plan won’t just create jobs. It will create good jobs. It will create good jobs that do meaningful work. And it will do so for every worker.
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The jobs this plan creates are, by and large, blue-collar jobs. They require skills in trades that many already have. For those who need skills training, the American Jobs Plan will provide it — expanding apprenticeships and workforce development. And we’re going to use these programs to make sure that these jobs are available to women as well as men. After all, hard hats are unisex.
Additionally, each and every one of these jobs will have the free and fair choice to organize or join a union. Unions built the middle class, and the president and I believe strongly that unions can help expand the middle class today — helping working families who have been shut out, ladder up.
Which brings me to my final point, these jobs are for everybody. In rural communities and communities of color, disinvestment will be replaced with investment. Work will be underway everywhere. And workers everywhere will benefit — with a good job, yes, and also by making an important contribution in their own backyard.
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A pipefitter in Illinois could get a job replacing lead service lines in their own city, as we plan to replace every lead service line in the nation. An electrician in Montana could find work laying broadband lines in their own neighborhood, as we plan to make broadband available to every American. An aspiring welder in Florida could get an apprenticeship that leads to work fixing up the Seven Mile Bridge, as we plan to repair road and bridges across the country. A home health care worker in South Carolina could see their pay go up, as we solidify our nation’s care infrastructure.
Every American deserves a good job
Here’s the bottom line: Through this generational investment in infrastructure, there will be millions more good jobs to fill. There will be more trainings and apprenticeships for workers to get the skills they need. Workers will have the choice to organize, join a union and collectively bargain — meaning better pay, better benefits, better protections. And they will do meaningful work, as they repair what has been, build what can be, and keep our country competitive for generations to come.
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Last week, I toured the Upper San Leandro Water Treatment Plant in my hometown of Oakland, California. I met two workers there — a carpenter and construction inspector. They came up through apprenticeship programs. They are proud union members. They’re paid fairly. And they’re making sure households throughout Oakland get clean water, which is important work.
Every American who wants a job like that deserves a job like that. And that’s why President Biden and I are calling on Congress to pass the American Jobs Plan.
Kamala Harris is the vice president of the United States. Twitter: @VP