Only on 13: Labor Secretary downplays recession impacts, eyes next moves for those in energy jobs

Nick Natario Image
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
US Secretary of Labor concerned about cost of child care
The U.S. is seeing a growing number of jobs and a lowering unemployment rate. But with the prices of things, will the growth continue?

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited Houston for the first time, and in an interview you'll see only on 13, we asked him about a variety of topics from energy and recession, to childcare.

Experts fear devastating impacts amid talk of ending oil production

During the State of the Union speech this month, President Joe Biden talked about oil and gas - an industry on which he appeared to put a timeline.

"We're going to need oil for at least another decade," Biden said.

Biden's statement caught the attention of the University of Houston's vice president of energy and innovation, Ramanan Krishnamoorti.

"Those signals to the industry that this is an industry that's in trouble, that only has a short cycle in front of it, has driven away some of the best people," Krishnamoorti explained.

Experts said if people avoid the industry, and companies stop investing, it could lead to less reliable energy and higher gas prices.

"It's going to have a chilling effect on the industry," Krishnamoorti said. "It's going to have a negative massive consequence on society at large."

One agency that plays a role in energy jobs is the Department of Labor. On Tuesday, Walsh, the head of the agency, was in Houston. Eyewitness News asked Walsh about concerns raised by energy experts.

"You can't get caught up in what the president says in his speech," Walsh explained. "It's really about he's laying down a foundation for the future. It's not about tomorrow."

Walsh says we're in a transition. While still relying on oil and gas, he says the president is focused on alternative sources of energy.

"We want to be less reliant on oil and gas, but we also want to make sure people who work in those industries can transition into industries where they can make the same if not better money," Walsh explained.

Inflation, not recession, is main worry for U.S. workers, labor chief says

The January jobs report showed employers added more than half a million jobs. We asked Walsh if this will continue.

"We're not going to see 500,000 jobs every month because there's not enough people to fill those jobs, but I'm not concerned about a recession," Walsh said. "You asked me about it six months ago. I'm not concerned about it today."

Walsh isn't fearful of a recession, but there's something else he said impacting workers.

"I think the biggest challenge in front of us right now is to continue to bring down inflationary pressures on people," Walsh said.

The latest Consumer Price Index report showed a slowdown in the price of goods, but everything is still 6.4% higher than this time last year.

Solutions needed sooner to address rising childcare costs

Walsh said the pandemic forced many women out of the workplace because schools closed. He added that public-private partnerships should work to address this issue.

"Pointing the finger and blaming other parts of government is not the way to go right now because it's really about the future of our economies in a city, in a state, and in a country," Walsh explained.

One way is a $75 million grant the state recently started. It's aimed at attracting more childcare centers. Providers can apply and get money to them buy supplies to open a business.

"Either in expanding childcare that they have, childcare business that they currently have or working with local partners to facilitate the creation of new childcare centers that are conveniently located in places where people weren't," Workforce Solutions executive director, Juliet Stipeche, explained.

It's an issue impacting all Texans. A U.S. Chamber study showed the state loses $1.8 billion in revenue because of childcare, which is money that could go to projects like roads and bridges.

"This is not just a federal government approach," Walsh said. "We have to reimagine in government and with the private sector what childcare is all about."

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