Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
National Urban League,
8th Annual Legislative Policy Conference's Opening Luncheon
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Thank you Marc (Morial) for that kind introduction.
Good afternoon National Urban League.
I want to congratulate Michelle Miller, Marc's wife, for her fantastic story on CBS' Sunday Morning commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire one hundred years ago last week.
It was an important story to do, because that fire built the resolve of Americans to improve the plight of working people.
I enjoyed sharing the stage with Michelle last summer at the National Urban League's annual conference here in Washington at the Women of Power luncheon.
I am so happy to see you here.
I want to thank the leadership of Marc Morial, your president, for bringing you together for the purpose of directly engaging Capitol Hill.
As a former member of Congress, I can say that hearing from people directly is so important.
I am happy that you will be speaking to members on the Hill – speaking for folks who normally don't have a voice in Washington.
I think you will be speaking on behalf of the people I care especially about.
You know, I didn't grow up with lots of money. I come from a working class – blue collar family.
The love and support my family gave me, encouraged me to pursue my dreams of attending college.
I was actually the first of seven to attend.
After I attended, all my sisters entered four-year universities.
And, the path I took is very similar to the people you help.
I am a former JTPA recipient, a summer youth employment recipient and a proud Pell Grant student loan recipient. That's how I made it through college!
So, I think we are on this journey together. And, what a path we are on now!
Before I was sworn into office, the American economy was well into a Great Recession.
Monthly job losses were over 700,000 a month and piling up.
By the time I was sworn into office in February 2009, there were fewer people employed in the United States than when my friend and predecessor as Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman served.
Eight years had gone by, and there were fewer job opportunities, despite an obviously larger labor market.
With help from the National Urban League, and your visits to Capitol Hill, and the efforts of others, President Obama was able to put in place the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that February I was sworn in.
Our most immediate goal with the Recovery Act was to slow down the loss of jobs.
This recession was the most severe on record since the Great Depression.
The 8 million jobs that were lost from February 2008 to February 2010 surpass the combined losses of all the jobs lost in the recessions of 1969, 1973, 1980, and 1981.
That's not one downturn, or two, or three, but the combined losses of four economic downturns.
But I'm happy to report that we are now turning the corner.
We've seen private sector job growth for 12 straight months adding 1.5 million jobs.
And the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.4 to 8.9% in the last three months a drop we haven't seen since the early 1980s.
I feel very good about where we're heading, but we know there's still more work to be done for the 13.7 million people who are out of work.
I know that later this week, you will hold a Town Hall at historic Howard University to release your State of Black America.
And, last year I was honored to write a chapter for the State of Black America.
In that chapter I laid out what the Department of Labor and President Obama had put in motion to get the economy and jobs back on track.
So, I am happy to report to you today the tangible evidence of what is going on.
Since last March, over 1.5 million jobs have been added to the private sector; moving us in the right direction.
But, as we have started the steady stream of private sector job growth, the African American unemployment rate has started to recede, and is inching down; moving us in the right direction.
And, while the share of African Americans holding a job fell below 52 percent in July last year, the share of African Americans holding a job is showing some improvement.
But, against a huge wave of job losses, the growth in jobs feels small.
It feels that the President didn't do enough.
But, the reason the National Urban League initiated the State of Black America was to get a measure of the size of the problems facing the African American community – to use cold hard facts to solve problems.
And, in that spirit, let's fully understand that if the Recovery Act had not passed, then every projection for the labor market was continued job losses.
So, it is important to understand that it isn't just the 1.5 million jobs we have added since last March, but the job losses we prevented given the path the economy was following.
Last week, the President's Council of Economic Advisor's showed that we finished last year with 3.6 million more jobs than would have been in the economy if we had not passed the Recovery Act.
That isn't where President Obama wants us to be, and it isn't where I want it to be.
But, we can't let others talk us into reversing our course now! We can't let them point us in the wrong direction!
You know the saying, “Are we there yet?”
Well, no we are not there yet, but that doesn't mean you should jump out of the car!
And, going backwards only moves us farther away from getting to where we want to be.
I am happy to report on how the Recovery Act money was spent.
About one third went to individual tax cuts.
The people you serve were the big beneficiaries of the larger components of the tax cuts.
Cuts like the Making Work Pay tax credit and the child tax credit, and individual payments made in place of tax cuts to help those on Social Security or receiving veterans' benefits, went directly into the pockets of the people and the neighborhoods served by the National Urban League.
About one third of the Recovery Act money went to support state budgets in maintaining Medicaid, the largest single health insurer for African American children, and to support education at the local level.
When we look at Americans under age 10, the children in elementary school, about 45 percent of them are children of color African American, Latino and Asian American.
The money went to help shore up the health and education of the children you serve.
And, that help to the state governments in covering those costs meant states maintained some other crucial services...
Including the social services that National Urban League affiliates provide to their local communities.
In addition, that helped state and local governments maintain teachers and workers you rely on as partners in delivering the important services you provide.
The final third of the Recovery Act money went to improve our infrastructure literally building the foundations for tomorrow.
So, one year after I wrote that chapter in the State of Black America I am here to report some promises kept.
And, one year later, I am here to celebrate.
Thanks, again, to your visits to Capitol Hill, and the efforts of others, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act.
That fight, your fight, put a new foundation for winning America's future by addressing our nation's health care fault lines.
That Act is already bringing important changes to health care.
Parents now have the choice of providing health coverage for a child until their 26th birthday.
An estimated 1.2 million young adults, including your college age children, could gain insurance coverage as a result of the law.
Children with pre-existing conditions, like Asthma, cannot be denied coverage.
Nearly 4 million Americans, a disproportionate share of African American elderly included, who hit the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” received $250 tax-free rebates, and will receive a 50% discount on brand name prescription drugs if they hit the donut hole this year.
And, the passage of the Affordable Care Act also meant important reforms in access to college.
By changing the student loan program, savings were kicked back into making college more accessible to more students.
This year we anticipate almost 1.8 million more students getting Pell Grant assistance to attend college than in 2008.
And, because the average award will be almost $1,000 higher, students today will have a wider choice of schools they can consider affordable.
So, we have come a long way together.
I appreciate the opportunity to have written a chapter in the State of Black America last year; to have joined you last summer at the Women of Power luncheon during your annual conference; and to be with you as you go to tell Capitol Hill what they need to hear.
Go up with confidence that things are better than last year, and that if you keep raising your voices, we will stay on the right path.
As President Obama has charged us, we will out innovate, out-educate and out compete to climb our way back to where we were and beyond to where our children need us to be.