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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Conference
Washington, DC
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good morning!

Buenos Dias!

Thank you to Congressman Sablan for that warm introduction. It's always a pleasure to be at events with CHCI among so many friends and familiar faces. I want to thank Rep. Nydia Velázquez for her work and dedication, and congratulate her on pulling off another successful conference! I also want to congratulate CHCI for its 32nd conference. What a wonderful milestone for this organization!

On many occasions I've worked with members of CHCI, and I know the great impact you have on the Latino community. Through your scholarship fund you are empowering students and creating opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have. You really are helping groom the next generation of Latino leaders. Thank you for your dedication to our young men and women!

Like many of you, I am proud to be Latina — proud of where I come from, and grateful to those who made it possible for me to serve as the first Latina Secretary of Labor. I entered public life to improve opportunities for families like mine — hard-working families eager to realize their dreams, but in recent years, the American Dream seems like it's been slipping away.

We are facing a number of challenges on a scale unseen in our time. Our economy — and our nation — are endangered by problems we have kicked down the road for far too long: economic instability, spiraling health care costs, dependence on foreign oil. Meeting these great challenges will require an extraordinary effort on our part, but we must all pitch in. It is time to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity.

It is my job as Secretary of Labor to ensure that our workers are safe and that they have the tools they need to get ahead, and I am fully aware that our community has been hit particularly hard in this recession. Our economy may have sunk into a recession in December of 2007, but Latinos entered the recession early and have felt it severely.

Consider that:

  • The employment of Latinos has fallen by 5 % during the recession, faster than the rate of decline for other workers.
  • And overall employment in construction is down by about 13 %, but employment of Latinos in construction is down by 23 %.
  • And 23.2 % of Latinos lived below the poverty line last year, up from 21.5%in 2007.

This is unacceptable! Today I want to reaffirm my commitment to our workers, and tell you my first priority is to give our working men and women the resources they need to thrive. I know the importance of programs to help Latinos integrate, find good jobs and become productive members of society.

Through the Recovery Act, we have moved quickly to protect workers who have lost their jobs, and provide new worker training opportunities for those looking to upgrade their skills. We have extended unemployment insurance eligibility, meaning that our familias will get an extra $25 per week to cover their necessities. We have also strengthened our social safety net by extending COBRA coverage and reducing premiums. This means that Latinos can still have health insurance if they get sick!

I also want to make sure that our workers that have a job are safe in their workplace, and we know Latinos experience a disproportionate number of injuries and deaths as compared to other groups! That's why I'm adding 130 OSHA inspectors to my payroll, and 275 in Wage and Hour and the Employee Benefits Standards Administration.

Through the Recovery Act we are funding summer youth opportunities, and Latinos currently represent over 27% of the young people that are a part of our summer youth program, and one-fifth of Recovery Act-supported SBA loans have gone to minority-owned businesses.

I am also proud to say that through the Recovery Act, we have provided $500 million for grants to fund projects that prepare workers for green jobs in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. As we are talking about transitioning to a green economy, we need to make sure Latinos are a part of this transformation. Latinos must be included in the green revolution and be trained so they, too, can take advantage of the green jobs that are being created.

Many, particularly those in construction, are in areas in which Latinos are well represented, and this has the potential to give our community a strong boost. And let me just say a quick word about Latinos and green jobs. Green jobs are good jobs that pay 10% to 20% more than regular jobs. These are jobs that can help lift our communities out of poverty. We need to make sure our young men, and women too, have opportunities and have access to these jobs. That is why we need to encourage our jovencitos to pursue careers in math and science, areas where we are incredibly underrepresented.

I'm proud to say that two of my sisters are engineers. They decided to take a risk and pursue this career, and both are very successful. I hope more people in our community do the same.

My goal as Labor Secretary is to provide good jobs for everyone. Jobs that can support a family, jobs that are safe and secure, jobs that are sustainable and innovative, and jobs that rebuild a strong middle class. In this economy that's a tall order, but, that's what our President is all about. And that's what I'm all about.

Now, let me take a moment now to talk about an issue that I know is important to every person in this room — an issue that's getting a lot of attention this week: health insurance reform.

Today, families and business are struggling with a health care system that works better for the insurance industry than for the American people. While all working families shoulder this burden, Latinos carry a particularly heavy burden. One in three Latinos in this country is uninsured — making us the least likely demographic group to have insurance, and yet we tend to have higher rates of diseases, like diabetes, asthma and other chronic medical conditions. The current system is hurting our community and our overall economy.

Getting health care costs under control is essential to reducing budget deficits, restoring fiscal discipline, and putting our economy on a path towards sustainable growth and keeping our workers healthy.

The President gave a great speech last week, but it's going to take more than good arguments and even good ideas. We can't reform health care in America unless people who care about working people take action. And now, more than ever, we need you to join in the fight. We need to take this up as a Latino issue and really ramp up our leadership on this.

One of my primary concerns is keeping our, our families, and our communities safe and healthy. And as our children are going back to school, you are probably hearing a lot about influenza and the H1N1 virus, but here's the most important thing you need to know to protect yourselves. Always remember to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Cough and sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow, not your hands. And stay home if you're sick.

You can go to www.flu.gov, to learn more, and this Web site also has information in Spanish.

There are many challenges affecting our community today, and these are important issues we need to be focusing on before we can move on to other issues, important issues like immigration reform, which the President is committed to.

President Obama understands our immigration system is broken. He believes it can only be fixed by putting politics aside and offering a complete solution — one that enforces our laws, but also reaffirms our heritage as a nation of immigrants. I wholeheartedly agree with him. I know you have played, and will continue to play, an important role in keeping immigrant families engaged in the mean time.

President Obama and the rest of his Administration are carrying out a bold and aggressive agenda. In carrying out this work, the President has made a conscious effort to ensure that the Latino community is represented within the White House and throughout his Cabinet. The President has made sure that our community is at the table with respect to all issues — appointing Latinos to all his agencies, defense, education, health and human services.

As this Administration continues to fight for our community, we will continue to count on CHCI and other Latino organizations to help identify more potential candidates for openings as we continue to move forward.

I want to end by emphasizing one point: the economic mess we are in today wasn't created over night, and it will take some time to undo, but Latinos need to be there along the way to help.

We have an opportunity to shape the future, but its going take working together to change the status quo. I know that our community always helps each other out, and I can assure you that I'll do everything I can on behalf of Latinos. But we need your help as well — your ideas, your commitment and your energy.

And we need determined young men and women, like the many that are here at this conference, to break the barriers that still confront Latinos. I know that by working together and propping up our young people so they can lead, we will build a stronger, more prosperous, and more equitable nation for all. I hope you enjoy the rest of the event and the rest of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Muchas gracias! Y re-cor-de-mos que juntos podemos mas!

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