When world leaders convene at the annual G20 summit in Argentina later this week, they will have to confront an uncomfortable truth: They’re not making much progress in confronting global poverty and income inequality and meeting other sustainable development goals.
The US, in particular, is trailing every other country in the group. The United States scored the lowest in a United Nations index that ranks how much action each government in the G20 has taken to meet development goals. And the US is failing nearly all of its goals related to creating more inclusive, sustainable job growth.
During the two-day meeting, world leaders will need to address how they’ve fallen short in delivering the promise their labor ministers made last year to “promote employment pathways for our societies and economies that foster strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive economic growth benefiting all countries and people so that no one is left behind.”
The United States, which accounts for one-fifth of the world’s economy, is definitely not leading the way on this issue.
Labor officials promised to prepare workers for the high-skilled jobs of the future, to improve job opportunities for women, integrate immigrants into the labor force, and crack down on child labor and modern-day slavery. Of these four stated overarching goals for 2017, the Trump administration has taken meaningful action on only one: ending human trafficking and modern-day slavery. The administration has done nothing or actively sabotaged efforts to make progress on the other goals.
Here’s a brief overview:
Shaping the future of work
At last year’s G20 ministers’ meeting, labor officials declared that they would do more to prepare workers for a rapidly changing economy that seems to prioritize high-skilled jobs.
US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, along with the other 19 labor ministers, said they would take many steps to promote inclusive growth, such as promoting apprenticeships that give workers skills needed for jobs of the future, like computer programming and coding. They also said they would focus on strengthening the social safety net for those who are displaced, and respecting collective bargaining and fundamental workers’ rights.
The Trump administration has undermined workers’ rights in many different ways, but it has taken some action to modernize apprenticeship programs. Acosta has been encouraging companies, such as investment firms and tech companies, to offer paid apprenticeships beyond the usual ones in manufacturing and other trades. That includes a focus on government-subsidized programs that train workers in professional jobs that are more in demand.
But the US has not made efforts to strengthen the social safety net or collective bargaining rights. In fact, the administration is trying to make it harder than ever for laid-off workers to collect unemployment benefit, qualify for food stamps, and obtain Medicaid. In January, for example, the administration told state lawmakers that they could revoke Medicaid benefits from poor Americans who aren’t working. More than 12,000 people in Arkansas have lost their health insurance for not meeting strict new rules.
The administration has also gone after labor unions. In May, Trump signed an executive order that would weaken unions that represent federal employees, making it easier to fire government workers and harder for employees to organize.
Reducing gender gaps in the workforce
Giving women more job opportunities, promoting their career advancement, and closing the pay gap are part of the four major promises labor officials made last year. On a global level, women face a ton of barriers in their effort to earn a living. And while it’s true that there are fewer barriers for women in the United States, and the US has one of the world’s highest rates of women in the labor force, major obstacles still exist.
The Trump administration has not made any progress, for example, in reducing the gender pay gap. Women still earn, on average, 80 cents for every dollar a man earns. That statistic hasn’t budged at all since Trump took office, and the administration has actively undermined efforts to close the gap. In 2017, the Department of Labor suspended an Obama-era rule that would have required companies to report employee wages and salaries by race and gender. Identities would remain private, but the information would have allowed the federal government to identify patterns of potential pay discrimination.
Aside from the government’s role in perpetuating the gender imbalance, US corporations seem resistant to the idea of including more women in boardrooms, or in promoting them to executive positions. Today, there are even fewer female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies than there were last year.
Integrating migrants and refugees into the economy
Labor officials for the world’s 20 largest economies agreed last year that integrating immigrants and refugees into the economy and labor force is crucial to ending inequality.
It won’t be hard to summarize the administration’s failure to keep that promise. Not only has the Trump administration reduced the overall number of refugees and legal immigrants allowed in the country, it is currently pursuing policies that could create economic instability for those who are already here.
In September, the Department of Homeland Security proposed a new rule that would make it hard for legal immigrants and refugees to get green cards if they’ve used food stamps, Medicaid, or other safety net programs in the past. The so-called “public charge rule” hasn’t gone into effect, but there’s some evidence that it has made many immigrant families afraid to apply for health care, housing aid, and other government benefits.
This rule could end up making millions of low-income families even poorer, which is basically the opposite of what the US promised it would do.
Promoting transparency in the global supply chain
World leaders say they are concerned about how companies are profiting from child labor and modern-day slavery around the world.
The Trump administration’s latest report shows that progress in ending forced labor around the world has been slow, and in some cases, it’s reversing. In 2017, there were 16 million fewer children working across the world. But there were 4 million more adults who were working as modern-day slaves, which includes victims of sex trafficking as well as housekeepers and nannies who are sent abroad and held captive by the families that employ them.
The report doesn’t explain why this is happening, but experts say the numbers often fluctuate because it’s hard to get accurate data. Forced labor is underreported and well hidden from public view, so it’s likely an even bigger problem than the official numbers suggest.
Of all its stated goals, the Trump administration has taken the most action on this issue. Last year, the State Department awarded $25 million to the Global Fund to End Modern Day Slavery.
And this year, in January, the president also signed two bills aiming to crack down on the problem: the Combating Human Trafficking in Commercial Vehicles Act and the No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act.
The Department of Labor, under Acosta, has also ramped up investigations of companies that participate in federal guest-worker programs, and in 2017, “debarred employers from applying for certification to request temporary foreign workers due to frequent abuse of workers in the H-2A agricultural worker visa program.” The program allows US farmers to hire temporary foreign workers to harvest crops when they can’t find American workers.
The Labor Department has also proposed new rules that would require US employers to do a better job advertising open positions to American workers before seeking permission to hire guest workers.
While these actions are important, the United States is not keeping most of its promises to promote sustainable job growth around the world. And as the world’s largest economy, its failure gives other world leaders little incentive to do otherwise.