Erica Clayton Wright

Erica Clayton Wright

On Labor Day, we celebrated what the American dream is truly about — dignity of work and the liberty to pursue happiness. We also celebrated the contributions that America’s workforce has made toward the growth and prosperity of our nation. 

Today, we find ourselves presented with a moment of significant opportunity for women in the workforce. During the Trump administration, our economy is churning as evidenced by the more than 5.7 million new jobs created since January 2017.

Additionally, there are ample job opportunities for American workers as demonstrated by the nearly 7.3 million job openings posted in June 2019. More importantly, in April 2019, adult women had a 3.4% unemployment rate, which was the lowest rate since 1953, while the women’s labor force participation rate remained at 58.6%.

To maintain this path of success, we must continue growing and expanding opportunities for women. One solution is to reduce occupational licensing barriers — particularly for military spouses, 92% of whom are women.

As part of our work on occupational licensing, the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau conducted several listening sessions with military spouses across the country. The issue of license portability is one that comes up time and again. The good news is the voices of these military spouses are being heard as proof positive of the recent bipartisan actions taken in Pennsylvania.

As a Pennsylvanian, I am proud that our commonwealth is the third state in the nation to enact comprehensive occupational licensing reform. This law allows Pennsylvania to reissue a new resident’s license if the licensure requirements in his or her previous state, territory or country are determined to be substantially similar to those in Pennsylvania.

That is good news for military spouses especially those stationed in Pennsylvania, but not all military spouses are as fortunate.

Take Natalie West, for example.

I met Natalie at our July listening session at Fort Dix McGuire Air Force Base. Natalie’s husband of 17 years serves in the armed forces and their family has moved around the country several times. Natalie received a degree in social work and obtained her license in Louisiana. However, once her family moved she had to start the entire process from scratch, because the state she moved to did not recognize any out-of-state occupational licenses, even for military spouses. Natalie’s voice — along with many others from across the country — was fortunately heard in another state: Pennsylvania.

The day after our listening session, President Donald Trump hosted a working lunch on workforce freedom and mobility in his effort to catalyze nationwide reform in this area and eliminate many barriers that occupational licensing creates for the 21st-century workforce. Less than a month later, Pennsylvania had a licensing law.

Pennsylvania’s law will surely open the doors of opportunity for many workers, and especially women like Natalie, who want to pursue their own American dream while contributing to the growth and prosperity of our great nation. The bill was a bipartisan effort and is a perfect example of how federal and state government can work for our citizens by creating the environment to fuel the economy and encourage job creation. I hope that other states will follow suit and start working on occupational license and portability reform.

The Women’s Bureau has been championing the upward mobility of women in the workforce for nearly a century. As ever before, we stand ready to help states enact the much-needed reforms in this area and expand opportunities for working women across our nation.

Erica Clayton Wright is the acting director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor. She is a former resident of East Hempfield Township.