Skip to page content
Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
Bookmark and Share

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
National League of Cities
Congressional City Conference

Washington, D.C.
Monday, March 12, 2012

Good afternoon, and hello, everybody. Buenas tardes.

Thank you, Debbie, for that kind introduction, and thanks to all of our mayors and city council members who've come here today to share strategies on economic growth. You have tough jobs, and I know it's not easy. But even in the hardest times, you all continue to step up to the plate. And I know it's because you care deeply about the people in your communities and about playing a critical role in our larger national economic recovery.

I've never been a mayor or a city council member, but I have been a member of Congress, a state senator and I've served on the board of a community college in California. So I've worked closely with local leaders for the larger part of my career in public service. I know your jobs are the most intimate and immediate form of government. I know that you're forced to make tough decisions that directly affect the lives of people that you may know by name. And President Obama and I know the most important thing we can do to support you is promote policies that stimulate job growth. A huge part of that is making sure we have a skilled, competent workforce that can compete.

So let me thank many of you for your leadership with your local workforce boards. I know that this organization meets monthly with my Employment Training Administration to help us understand your local workforce needs; your legislative counsel Neil Bomberg has been such a valuable partner.

Those of you who lead workforce boards have such an important job. I know you've spent a great deal of time recruiting the right business leaders for your boards, and you've built bridges to connect them with community-based organizations and faith-based groups that can serve your unemployed. We want to help you in that effort.

So let me share some breaking news about what President Obama just proposed to make your jobs a little easier. A few minutes ago, I wrapped up a conference call with Gene Sperling and Cecilia Munoz at the White House.

We announced a new plan to help one million displaced workers find jobs. Currently, we have two important programs to help workers get re-trained and re-employed if they lose their job due to foreign trade: Trade Adjustment Assistance and the WIA Dislocated Worker program. But it shouldn't matter whether a layoff is the result of off-shoring, downsizing or a failed business venture. Those who lose a job through no fault of their own should have access to high-quality help when it comes to changing careers or finding a new job.

We believe it's time to turn our unemployment system into a re-employment system. So we're proposing a new Universal Displaced Worker program to expand the availability of services for job-seekers. This program would give every displaced worker access to employment services to help them find a job or change careers. This includes targeted assistance and skills assessments for all displaced workers.

For those who need to upgrade their skills to compete in the 21st century economy,
the President and I are proposing up to $4,000 per person in training awards. If necessary, workers can qualify for another $4,000 for a second year to finish skills training to succeed in more technical fields.

We recognize that many unemployed workers are balancing family responsibilities with their job training and job search. Therefore, the new program would provide stipends that could help eligible workers care for their children or offset their transportation costs while they are trained.

We also recognize that sometimes workers have to relocate to find a good job. The Universal Displaced Worker program would provide some cash assistance to ease the burden that can come with moving to another city or state.

For workers over 50 who have spent their entire career in one sector, we know it can be particularly difficult to find a new job in a new industry at their previous wages. Our program would provide a modest wage subsidy to ease the transition of older workers who take a new job that pays less.

Finally, we want to upgrade and better connect our federally funded One-Stop Career Centers across the country. Each year, 30 million people get help finding a job at these centers, but we believe they could be serving millions more. These centers provide job search assistance and information, training and other re-employment services. Currently, names for these centers vary widely from state to state, confusing both businesses and jobseekers. Even the electronic tools developed by various parts of the federal government to make job transitions easier are spread across many disconnected websites. It shouldn't be this complicated to get help.

Every person seeking job assistance and every business looking for skilled workers should be able to reach a one-stop career center either physically or online. That's why the President is proposing the creation of an integrated American Job Center Network. The network will unify all of our One-Stop centers and their electronic resources. The American Job Center Network would connect nearly 3,000 physical locations across the country under one umbrella. It will enlist the help of our partners, including government agencies, libraries, community colleges and community organizations to expand our reach. The website will be jobcenter.usa.gov

The site will provide a new single point of access for both job seekers and businesses looking to hire. We will be calling on our workforce boards and community organizations to get the word out about the many employment services that are a mouse click or a short drive away.

The Displaced Worker program would complement the President's plan to invest $8 billion to fund new partnerships between community colleges and businesses. The idea here is simple: We want to match what students are learning in school with what local businesses are looking for. Here, our goal is to develop programs with a focus on training for high-growth industries like IT, health care, advanced manufacturing and renewable energy.

Now, as mayors and council members you may say: Why should we care about community college capacity building? I'll tell you why. It's a great recruitment and retention tool to attract and keep businesses in your city and a great way to create new tax revenue streams for your cities and towns. People want to do business in places where pools of skilled workers live. It's also a great way to get local businesses talking to your community colleges about their workforce needs. We're already helping employers match what's taught in the classroom with their needs in an office or on the factory floor. We're currently accepting applications for the $500 million grant competition under the TAA Community College and Career Training program. I urge you to partner with your local colleges, businesses, and workforce boards to apply for this money.

Next I want to tell you about another grant competition that we opened up last week.

It's called the Senior Community Service Employment Program. This is a program for lower-income seniors age 55 or older. e're awarding up to 20 local grants to help more than 35,000 seniors receive work-based training by doing community service. We're offering subsidies to put older Americans to work in day care facilities, senior centers, schools and hospitals. With this experience, many of these folks can transition to good-paying jobs that also do a lot of good in the community. The grant solicitation is posted in the March 9th Federal Register, and I encourage you to explore this opportunity.

These are a few of the resources and initiatives we believe can help you grow your local economies and put folks back to work. But I also wanted to make an "ask" of you. Last year, many mayors, including some of you in this room, played a huge role in our initiative to create summer youth employment opportunities. You created summer jobs at the local level. And you reached out to your local businesses and asked them to get involved. I hope you will do so again this year.

Really, it was mayors who invented the summer jobs program. For many years, we had a summer jobs program under JPTA, the Job Partnership Training Act. But that money dried up in 2000, and it was leaders like you who kept the initiative alive. Then, in the first two years of the Obama administration, we saw the benefits of a society that is willing to invest in our youth. More than 367,000 young people found summer work opportunities in 2009 and 2010 because of Recovery Act monies.

When those dollars dried up last year, I made summer youth jobs a top priority at the Department of Labor. I personally traveled to communities across the country last summer and challenged employers to make a commitment. A number of major corporations like Jamba Juice, UPS and Wells Fargo signed on. Major nonprofits like We Are Golf helped tee up thousands of summer youth jobs. And local leaders like you worked with their local business leaders to secure commitments. Together, we opened up 80,000 summer job opportunities for America's youth.

Now the President is leading an effort at the White House level to grow those numbers, and we need your help. We're calling it Summer Jobs Plus. The administration has already secured commitments to create more than 180,000 summer work opportunities, but we need more summer slots. This includes paid positions, internships, mentoring relationships and job shadowing programs.

Later this month, we'll be launching a Summer Jobs Plus job bank at www.dol.gov/summerjobs. This is an online search tool that will allow young people to see who's hiring locally. We hope you'll post your summer jobs into the national directory, and encourage businesses in your cities to do the same. The job bank will allow you to see the corporations that have made commitments in other cities, and we hope it'll give you ideas about corporations in your cities you can pitch.

This is a great program on its merits, but it's also a great way to give credit to local leaders for running successful programs without federal support. We're continuing to try to find federal dollars for summer jobs. But until we do, we're running this volunteer program with local businesses, and your involvement can make a big difference for young people in your communities.

I want to close today by giving you an update on the status of the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. This would obviously be the best way to integrate many of the programs I've talked about today. We all know how hard it is to break the gridlock in Congress right now. And the President and I have grave concerns about proposals on Capitol Hill that would repeal programs serving veterans, disabled workers, farm workers and at-risk youth. This is the wrong way to go.

We can't wait for WIA reauthorization to invest in the American worker. That's why the President's budget contains proposals to strengthen the public workforce system to speed our recovery. The budget is a clear indication of his commitment to job training programs. Some folks in Washington look at the public workforce system as just another budget item. Some forget just how important the system is.

We need to ensure our workforce system remains flexible in responding to local needs. We need to make sure that job training is accessible to those who need it the most. So many people in vulnerable communities have been out of work for way too long! We can't forget about them. We need to strengthen partnerships within adult literacy and TANF programs, so every adult with low literacy is getting assistance that provides vocational training while they learn to read and write. We need to invest in programs that serve at-risk and disconnected youth. And we need to do more to help our returning veterans find good-paying civilian jobs when their military service is over. That's why we're pushing for WIA legislation that has bipartisan support. And it's why we're working with a bipartisan WIA group on Capitol Hill to improve our public workforce system.

So with that, I'll conclude my remarks. I hope I was able to convey some useful information today. I know we all work in a political system, but I wanted to give you resources, not rhetoric, so we can work together to serve those we were elected to represent. Please keep up the great work. Muchismas gracias.