Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything Event
The Center for American Progress
October, 19, 2009
Thank you, everybody. It's wonderful to be here. Congratulations to "A Woman's Nation" and the Center for American Progress. The Shriver Report and this important policy conference are shining a light on critical issues for today's workplace and today's working families.
Let me begin by thanking Sarah Wartell, Heather Boushey, and the good folks here at the Center for organizing this event. There are too many important allies here to acknowledge you all, but I want to say thanks to the many of you who have already met with my staff at DOL and have offered your ideas and expertise on work-family issues.
I care very much about these issues at DOL, and we have an open door policy if you have suggestions on what we can do better, we want to hear them.
I am also glad that Maria Echaveste, who led Wage and Hour so ably at DOL some years ago, is here to talk about the women workers who provide the childcare and eldercare as our workforce changes so dramatically. This transformation affects all working families. And of course my good friend, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who you will hear from later today, is a longtime champion for women and for working families.
During these tough economic times, more and more women are becoming the primary breadwinners for their families, and it's important that we look at how we can help them succeed. We know tackling this challenge will be no easy task, but, let me just say, it is an honor to be working for a president who is committed to improving the lives of women and girls.
The first bill President Barack Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers. The President also established a White House Council on Women and Girls to provide a coordinated, federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls. This Council will help ensure that all Cabinet agencies consider how their policies and programs impact women and families. The advancement and economic security of women is important to the President, and it's equally important to me.
As the former Co-Chair of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, I am strongly committed to improving the lives of women and girls. I entered public life to improve opportunities for families like mine hard-working families eager to realize the American Dream. Today, those hardworking families and workers are feeling a lot of uncertainty.
As you know, our unemployment rate is at an all time high of 9.8%. Women have a lower percentage of unemployment at 7.8 %, but this is not a victory for us. It simply means more families are depending on women as the sole breadwinner, and women are still not achieving equity in pay. They remain concentrated in low-skill jobs and earn less than men do, dollar for dollar. Millions of working women don't have one, single, paid sick day! Millions of working men and women have no flexibility at their work even when they need to care for a family member. These needs are a priority for me at the Department of Labor.
My department has been working to give men and women the appropriate tools necessary to find and keep good jobs, and, by the way, what I mean by a good job is:
- Jobs that can support a family by increasing incomes and narrowing the wage gap;
- Jobs that are safe and secure, and give people a voice in the workplace;
- Jobs that provide good benefits and workplace flexibility for family and personal care-giving;
- Jobs that are sustainable like green jobs that export products, not paychecks;
- And jobs that restore a strong middle class.
In this economy, that's a hard task to follow, but, that's what our President believes. And that's what I believe!
At the Department of Labor, we have moved quickly to protect workers who lost their jobs, and provided workers with training opportunities for those looking to upgrade their skills or prepare for a new career. The Recovery Act has had a tremendous impact in helping to ease some of the pain of this recession, and to help generate new economic activity. Through the Recovery Act we have increased unemployment benefits so that workers get an extra $25 every week to help pay for their family's necessities. Through the modernization of UI, we have ensured that workers, previously excluded, can access Unemployment Insurance. This is a great example of the type of policy changes you all are discussing today.
Before our work to modernize UI, many low-wage and part-time workers were excluded. The system was based on an outdated view of the workforce only 33% of unemployed women could receive unemployment support. Policy needs to keep pace with the changes we are seeing. We are becoming "A Woman's Nation" that's what we have done state by state, and it has meant millions more dollars going to working women and their families and back into the economy.
We have also strengthened our social safety net by extending COBRA health coverage, and reducing premiums so that working women and men can still get health coverage for themselves and their families when they lose their jobs! Of course, one of the major ways we will bring stability to this economy and all working families will be Health Insurance Reform the top priority for our President and me and for all of us right now.
The Department of Labor is also charged with making sure workers are paid fair wages and are treated fairly in the workplace. The Wage and Hour Division is charged with making sure women get their due wages in the work place, and that the provisions under the Family and Medical Leave Act are carried out. As I said earlier, we welcome your expertise and input about how we can increase awareness and enforcement of FMLA and other labor standards that affect work-family balance.
Those are a few of our safety net and preventative programs, but we are also looking to promote the long-term economic stability of women in the workplace. I am proud to say that the Department of Labor houses an agency exclusively concerned with serving and promoting the interests of women through the Women's Bureau. Many of you know our nominee for Director, Sara Manzano-Diaz, and our Deputy Director, Latifa Lyles. Under their strong leadership, the Women's Bureau will have a strong agenda aimed at improving the lives of women workers, improving their working conditions, and advancing their employment opportunities.
We all know that work-life balance is a major issue for working women and their families. It's also a major issue for me and for the rest of the Administration. I have asked all agencies to address issues facing women in the workplace, and DOL will look to improve work-family policies.
One Women's Bureau initiative, the Flex-Options project, is helping businesses create or expand workplace flexibility policies and programs for their workforces. This project brings together employers, who volunteer to mentor business owners, and other employers interested in developing flexible workplace programs like flexible work schedules, family-friendly leave policies, and tele-work. This is all aimed at helping employees navigate their work, family, and personal responsibilities, while helping employers meet their needs.
The Women's Bureau is also working to help improve the economic security of women through financial literacy. Through free classes online, as well as in a classroom setting, women can learn about everything from how to apply for unemployment insurance, to how to buy a home, to planning for their retirement. We are also working on programs that will allow women to take advatange of new opportunities being created. As we transition to a green economy, we need to also make sure our sisters and daughters in this "Women's Nation" are included in the green revolution. This means we need to encourage women and girls to pursue careers in math and science areas where we are incredibly underrepresented, and it means training women for "non-traditional" jobs.
At the Department of Labor, we are investing $500 million for high-growth job training projects, including green jobs. By hosting green jobs roundtables across the country, the Women's Bureau is already starting to ensure that women of all ages and socioeconomic groups are aware of the new green jobs sector, are recruited, and are adequately trained to enter green career pathways.
We also know that allied health and information technology are two of the fastest growing sectors in our economy. That is why my agency announced approximately $220 million in competitive grants to train workers in these high-growth occupations. And we will work to ensure that women have access to these growing fields and that these are good jobs. These are just some of the programs we are working on, but we clearly have much more work to do!
Our women and families are facing tough times, and need a federal government that will work with them and provide them with the necessary tools they need to succeed. That's the President's commitment, and it's my commitment.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
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