Trump Touts Better Pay, New Jobs and Immigration Reform in First State of the Union Address

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie January 31, 2018
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Higher wages fueled by his new tax cut, a bold infrastructure initiative that would create jobs, and an overhaul of the immigration system that would protect U.S. workers were atop President Donald Trump's agenda during his first State of the Union speech last night.

Trump credited the $1.5 trillion tax cut with prompting businesses to give bonuses to about 3 million workers. He boasted that wages are rising after "years of stagnation" and that since his election the U.S. has seen the creation of 2.4 million jobs, including 200,000 in manufacturing. And he claimed that his policies have brought black and Hispanic unemployment levels to historic lows.

"Small business confidence is at an all-time high," he said. "The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans' 401(k), retirement, pension, and college savings accounts."

Major Investment in Infrastructure

One of Trump's significant proposals was for a $1.5 trillion plan to build a "safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve"—which would likely translate into new jobs. He also called for streamlining government regulations that stymie the building of roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways.

"We built the Empire State Building in just one year," he said. "Is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?"

In a statement, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) noted that "with low national unemployment and job opportunities in infrastructure on the horizon, SHRM encourages a revitalized national discussion about hiring from untapped talent groups such as veterans, individuals with disabilities and individuals with criminal records."

Immigration

Trump repeated his desire to restrict immigration by building a border wall, hiring more border patrol agents and ending "the visa lottery—a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people."

Trump's controversial immigration plan would sharply cut the number of legal immigrants while allowing a path to citizenship for young "Dreamers" who were brought to the country illegally as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows them to stay in the U.S. by making them eligible for work permits and renewable two-year relief from deportation. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in the fall that DACA would end March 5, which resulted in an outcry from tech employers. The leaders of Facebook, Microsoft, Cisco, Google and Uber have all worked to support the Dreamers.

SHRM supports allowing DACA beneficiaries to continue to work and attend school in this country.

"In addition, there must be enough visas for employers to fill skills gaps and access the best talent for the workforce, along with protections, education and training for U.S. workers," SHRM said. 

Paid Family Leave 

Trump made passing reference to his support for paid family leave, which his daughter, Ivanka, has championed. 

As part of Trump's budget proposal last March, he called for six weeks of paid parental leave that would cover mothers, fathers and new adoptive parents. The proposal would have used state unemployment programs to distribute funds to eligible employees.

Trump's plan would guarantee this leave by amending the existing unemployment insurance that companies are required to carry. The benefit would apply only when employers don't offer paid maternity leave and would be paid for by rooting out unemployment insurance fraud.

The leave proposal has not moved far in Congress.

SHRM is calling for enactment of the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, or H.R. 4219. SHRM noted in its statement that the bill provides "generous paid leave that could be used for any purpose—including parental and sick leave—and workflex options for employees."

"Workflex in the 21st Century—that says it all," said Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of SHRM. "The bill fits the changing nature of people's work, their schedules and their needs."

Lower Prescription Drug Costs

The president said notably little about health care—his administration last year failed in its quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act—but did say that lowering the cost of prescription drugs was among his "greatest priorities" and that workers' benefits—as well as their wages and bonuses—are getting a boost from the lower corporate tax rate that took effect this year.

The tax act enacted at the end of December, informally known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, lowered the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent. The tax overhaul has been cited by companies that have increased employee salaries, granted "tax cut bonuses," raised their 401(k) matching contributions and expanded paid-leave programs, among other actions.

Trump also called for investing in workforce development and job training, although he provided few specifics other than calling to open "great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential."

"For employers, several messages are clear," said Elizabeth Stern, head of law firm Mayer Brown's Global Mobility & Migration practice, and Paul Virtue, a partner in the firm's Employment & Benefits group and former general counsel of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. "Employers who demonstrate that they are investing in training American workers, whether these be U.S. college graduate training, programs for veterans, or general vocational programs, will be rewarded. Creation of new jobs and opening of new jobs centers in the United States is important."

Trade

Trump spoke briefly on trade, saying that the nation's trade deals with other countries need to "protect American workers and American intellectual property."

"The era of economic surrender is over," he said. "From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal. We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones."

SHRM Online editors Roy Maurer, Stephen Miller, Lisa Nagele-Piazza and Allen Smith contributed to this article.

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