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U.S. Labor Secretary announces job training initiative during Little Rock visit

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks with officials with Philander Smith College and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. (left) at the college on Wednesday.
Daniel Breen
U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks with officials at Philander Smith College and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. (left) at the college on Wednesday.

Arkansas is getting $2 million from the federal government to help adults re-enter the workforce after being incarcerated.

The funding from the U.S. Department of Labor will go to the Little Rock Workforce Development Board to provide training and employment services for people recently released from jails and prisons.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh announced the funding in a visit to Little Rock’s Philander Smith College on Wednesday.

“These grants will help people who are working for second chances, they’re about reducing crime. They’re also about meeting the needs of the local labor markets, like here in Little Rock,” Walsh said.

Arkansas is one of 14 states to receive part of $50 million in funding from the Labor Department’s Pathway Home grant program.

Walsh, the former Mayor of Boston, joined Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce President and C-E-O Jay Chesshir in speaking with local business leaders at Wednesday’s event. Walsh called for more workforce development initiatives such as apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs, but said businesses should also be willing to provide higher wages to attract potential workers.

“The intention behind job training is to help people be trained and skilled in a career that they would earn a good wage. And I think that companies in America today shouldn’t be undercutting each other for a race to the bottom,” Walsh said. “What they should be doing is continuing to increase salaries and opportunities, whether it’s better productivity, better opportunity, and growth of their own company.”

Scott echoed Walsh’s sentiment, saying he’s overseen new pay increases within city government.

“That’s the reason why we’re growing our city, with close to 8,000 jobs that’s come, they’ve all been high wages. [That’s] the reason also the City of Little Rock has put forth a $15 minimum wage policy as well, hoping that other businesses will follow suit,” Scott said.

Walsh came to Little Rock to promote the Biden Administration’s Good Jobs Initiative, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Under the infrastructure package, Arkansas is set to receive nearly $4 billion over the next five years, including $528 million to go toward improving drinking water quality.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.