February’s jobs report from the federal government, released Friday, showed that U.S. employers added 311,000 jobs last month, defying expectations and signaling that the labor market is still hiring at a healthy pace.
It also marks the final report under Marty Walsh’s tenure leading the U.S. Department of Labor before his departure from President Joe Biden’s Cabinet. Walsh, who previously served as Boston’s mayor before joining the Biden administration, is leaving his post to lead the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
“It’s my first time in 26 years out of public service,” Walsh said in an interview with Spectrum News on Friday.
Walsh hailed the progress in Friday’s report, making particular note of “significant gains” in industries like leisure and hospitality and health care, while also noting that there is still more work to be done to bring down costs for the American people.
“We’ve got to bring inflation down,” he said, when asked about closing the gap between higher wages and high prices.
Inflation has been a challenge for the Biden administration, though consumer prices have ticked down over the last several months. The Federal Reserve has repeatedly raised interest rates in order to tame inflation, and economists believe that Friday’s report may suggest that the central bank may raise rates yet again. The Fed raised its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a point last month.
The Fed will ultimately decide on its course of action on Tuesday when the monthly consumer price report is released.
“We need to do everything we can to bring down inflation, and we've been doing that for the last year,” the labor secretary said.
“We’ve seen that number tick down,” Walsh added. “Certainly, people still feel the pressure. So we have more work to do.”
When asked about his most significant accomplishment leading the Labor Department, Walsh replied: “I don't look at accomplishments, I look at what we've done collectively.”
“When I began as Secretary of Labor, we were in the midst of a pandemic — 12.5 million people were out of work,” he said. “Two years later, 12.5 million people back at work.”
“We've done some great things as a department, and it's not about me, it's about the team around me,” Walsh added, praising the Labor staffers’ efforts in "moving American workers forward.”
Walsh heaped praise on his deputy, Julie Su, who was tapped by President Biden to serve as his replacement at the helm of the Labor Department. If confirmed, Su would be the first Asian American to serve as a Cabinet-level secretary in the Biden administration.
"We’ve talked to some business leaders over the last couple of weeks, just to talk about her nomination,” Walsh said. “And just let them know that the plan … we laid out as the labor secretary was to work on behalf of the American workers, work with workers, but also work with business and work with unions, and we've done a good job of that. “
"We've proven here that we can collectively work together,” he continued. “It’s not business vs. labor and union vs. non-union, it’s about creating opportunities.”
“For the last two years, Julie has been by my side, I've been by her side,” he said, adding: “She’ll be a great secretary.”
When Walsh joins the NHLPA, he said, he’s planning to assess the organization and pledged to “do my best to represent the players of the NHL and the best that I can do to represent their workers.”