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

Remarks for Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
TRIO 30th Anniversary Conference
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Good evening everyone. Thank you, Andrew for that introduction. And thanks to everyone at TRIO and the Council for all your work to advance the well-being of our nation's most vulnerable students.

As a former lawmaker and now as Labor Secretary, I've had the unique privilege to watch this organization grow. I've seen first-hand the incredible progress you've made, not only for at-risk youth, but for our nation as a whole.

You are HBCUs. You are HSIs. You are minority-serving youth programs. My friends, you are America's future. It's an honor to stand before you tonight.

From academic tutoring to personal counseling to mentoring to financial aid guidance, TRIO has helped so many young people from communities like the one where I grew up in Los Angeles.

Some of you are familiar with my story. Maybe you've heard me introduced as the daughter of immigrants and the first in my family to go to college. What you may not know is that I wouldn't be standing here today if it weren't for groups like the TRIO family.

I went to college because of the Educational Opportunity Program in California. People like you put a college application in my hand. People like you explained to my parents how we could afford it. People like you gave me the tools to get accepted into college and to thrive once I did.

I was a Pell Grant student and a work-study student. I took out student loans to make ends meet. One of my very first jobs after obtaining my master's degree was as the Director of the California Student Opportunity and Access Program. It was housed at Cal State-Long Beach and home to several TRIO programs. Those programs changed the lives of so many students from low-income and under-represented backgrounds.

They are the reason I chose a career in public service and why I stand before you today as the first Latina to be U.S. Secretary of Labor.

So yes, I know first-hand about the valuable work you do. You know we need qualified individuals in science, technology, engineering and math. You've made it your life's work to fill that void. Through your Upward Bound math and science programs and the Stokes Institute, you've inspired young people to open their books and their minds.

You've encouraged our future engineers. You've supported our aspiring doctors. You've put a multicultural face on STEM. And for that, my friends, America thanks you!

Through Upward Bound, you've helped our veterans see their limitless potential. Because if they can operate a multi-million dollar warfighter in Iraq, they can manage software systems here at home.

You're all doing incredible things each and every day for this country. And that's why Congress needs to step to the plate and give you the support that you deserve.

To those legislators who say we can't afford to invest in our schools — or can't afford to invest in our underserved communities — here's what I say to them: We can't afford to turn our back on our youth. We can't afford to gut training programs, financial aid, and scholarships that young people depend on. We can't afford to give up on the American Dream … and we won't.

TRIO, you've been game-changers for young people from underserved communities for decades. Through Upward Bound and Talent Search, you've helped them see that college isn't just an option, it's a necessity… and it can be a reality.

You've helped them prepare for entrance exams and attend summer sessions to give them a taste of the college experience. And once they've make history — once they've become the first in their family to go to college — your Student Support Service Programs help them stay the course at our colleges and universities.

But I didn't just come here to thank you. I came here with a message: The Department of Labor wants to work with you. Tonight, I bring you a proposal: You operate 124 Educational Opportunity Centers to help underserved adults go to college and pursue career pathways. We operate nearly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers across the country to help place people in jobs once they've obtained those credentials. Let's start working together.

Let's build connections between our EOCs and One-Stops and create a seamless system to help underserved adults realize their dreams. We're working toward the same goals. I stand before you tonight to say: Let's accomplish them together.

In the next eight years, there will be a projected 48 million job openings, according to a study by the National Governors Association. Nearly 2 in 3 will require some sort of post-secondary education. Unfortunately, we are under-prepared as a nation to meet this need.

By 2018, we'll need another 3 million Americans to go beyond a high school diploma or GED. That's why our President has set an ambitious goal: by 2020, this nation will be the best educated in the world. He understands you're the professionals who are going to get us there.

Every day, you're on the front lines of closing our achievement gap in higher education. The Obama administration has helped a record number of young people from underserved communities go to college.

We increased the maximum Pell grant award. We expanded the Work-Study program. We simplified student aid to increase access to our students most in need. We created a new tax credit — worth up to $2,500 a year — to help low-income families pay for school. We placed a cap on student loan repayments. And we passed a loan forgiveness program to make it easier for students to go back to the classroom and give back as teachers.

These measures have helped hundreds of thousands of young people continue their education. You know that. But our work isn't done.

Three weeks ago, President Obama proposed the American Jobs Act. You've heard a lot about this bill, but there's one section that will make a big difference for low-income youth. The President wants to invest $5 billion to create jobs for students and young adults in underserved communities.

Our unemployment rate for African Americans is 16.7 percent. For Latinos, it's 11.3 percent. But these numbers are even more sobering for our low-income youth. Only one in three African-American youth had a job last month. Only one in five teenagers had a job this past summer.

Our goal is to make it easier for low-income youth to get summer employment, so they can acquire the skills needed for long-term careers. The Recovery Act provided more than 367,000 summer job opportunities, but that money is gone. These programs not only provided young people with their first paycheck, they offered life-long employment skills. The President's Pathways Back to Work Fund will bring this program back and provide support to offer summer jobs for low-income youth in 2012.

TRIO, it's time we make our voices heard. We have to continue this fight. We have to keep the pressure on our opponents. We have to create momentum — and build a movement — that our opponents can't stop. By lifting up our young people, we'll lift up this nation — at a time when our work is more important than ever before.

So tonight, let's make that commitment together. Let's not lose heart. Let's keep fighting. Let's do the hard work that must be done so American remains a nation where anyone can make it if they try.

Thank you, again. God bless you, TRIO. And God bless the United States of America.