Honorable Alexis M. Herman
Remarks to the U.S. Conference of Mayors
San Francisco, California
June 24, 1997
Thank you, Mayor Richard Daley for that very gracious introduction. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you publicly for your fine leadership of the City of Chicago and of this organization. I want to thank you--and your entire family--for everything that you have done to make this country great and strong.
I also want to acknowledge Mayor Norm Rice, who heads the Mayor's Task Force on Welfare Reform. Mayor, I value your integrity, your intellect, your deep commitment . . . and mostly, your friendship. I also want to give an early welcome to the next leader of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Paul Helmke of Fort Wayne.
And to Tom Cochron, the Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors: Thank you for your fine work and friendship. Tom and I have worked closely together over many years . . . and I look forward to doing much more with him and the nation's Mayors in my new role as Labor Secretary.
It is a pleasure to be here in one of America's great cities with one of America's great Mayors: Willie Brown. When I think of Willie, I think of a story I know about the legendary Huey Long. The master of ceremonies at an event was stumbling through an introduction of him and the audience was getting restless.
So Huey Long interrupted, and said, "Just tell them I'm sui generis"--or, for those of you who didn't learn Latin in Catholic school, one of a kind.
Well, Willie Brown is sui generis--and we're all lucky to know him and work with him.
I grew up a long way from here but in another port city--the town of Mobile, Alabama. And it seems to me that, for all of you, whether you hail from San Francisco, from Mobile, or from any of our nation's great cities, serving as a Mayor is mostly an act of faith.
It is an act of faith that the people in our urban communities will find a way to reach across the differences that divide them and become--as the President urges us to be--proud participants in "one America."
It is also an act of faith when Mayors--men and women from rural and urban areas--come together to forge consensus, form partnerships and make progress together.
My faith in the potential of our nation . . . in our cities . . . in each of us . . . is rooted in my formative experience in public service.
After I left college, I began working with Catholic Charities, helping unemployed young men from the housing projects in my hometown of Mobile find work as skilled apprentices in the shipyards in nearby Pascagoula, Mississippi.
I will never forget these young men. Their hearts--and their hands--were aching for the dignity of useful work. And as we offered them education, training, and information about jobs, many of them seized the opportunities placed before them.
In that experience--and in many miraculous transformations we have all seen in our own lives and work--there is a lesson for all of us.
As the President says: When we offer opportunity for all-- and demand responsibility from all--we can build a new American community for all.
That is what you are trying to do every day as mayors. And that is what I am trying to do everyday as the nation's 23rd Secretary of Labor.
But challenges remain. We must make municipal governments and municipal economies--many of which were forged in the Industrial Age--respond to the challenges of the Information Age.
And we must continue to rise to the challenge of ensuring that all or our cities remain not just centers of our population . . . but centers of our civilization.
For everything you are doing to keep that faith and meet those challenges, I honor you.
After I took the oath of office, I set five goals for our department. I hope these can also be the basis for a productive partnership with our nation's mayors. My goals are:
First, to equip every working American with the skills to find and hold good jobs with rising incomes throughout their lives.
Second, to guarantee every working American a safe and healthy workplace, with equal opportunity for all.
Third, to help working people balance work and family because Americans must be able to succeed at home as well as on the job.
Fourth, to assure that working Americans are secure when--as Walter Reuther used to say--they are "too old to work and too young to die." Protecting pensions and expanding coverage for American workers is a top priority for me.
And fifth, and finally, to help people move from welfare to work--and that is what I want to discuss with you this morning.
President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and our entire administration are deeply committed to helping people move from welfare to work. We already have an impressive record of achievement to build on. In the first four years of this administration, more than 860,000 people have already moved from the welfare rolls to payrolls.
But we are not even close to where we want . . . where we need . . . to be. In order to meet our goal of moving an additional one million people off welfare over the next four years, we must continue to push the administration's aggressive and comprehensive plan.
The economic recovery--which is manifesting itself in paychecks as well as in stock prices--is a good start. And, as you know, over the past four-and-a-half years, our economy has added more than 12 million new jobs.
On my very first day as Labor Secretary, I had the pleasure to announce that the nation's unemployment rate hit its lowest mark in 23 years. Later that afternoon, the President said to me: Well Alexis, what are you going to do for an encore? The good news continues for the American economy, for American workers, and for American cities . . . with unemployment down by one-third in the top 50 cities.
And, over the past year... with your help, working people's real wages are finally showing a lasting and long-overdue increase . . . and we are finally helping to slow income inequality.
We increased tax credits for low-wage workers. We raised the minimum wage. We want to establish the principle that, if you work 40 hours a week--and, especially if you have children at home--you need no longer live and labor in poverty.
There is much more that we must do--as our President indicated yesterday--if we are to have broadly shared prosperity.
We understand that we must spread the spirit of opportunity to every community in this country--from our inner cities to our rural areas.
Through our empowerment zones, our enterprise communities, and other targeted investments, we are working with our nation's mayors to bring business and jobs back to places where it is too often true that, as the sociologist William Julius Wilson has written, "work has disappeared."
That is why I am proud that the Bipartisan Budget agreement includes the investments that will help all Americans find new opportunities for education, for training, and for work.
We are making sure that work does not disappear by adding an additional 250 million dollars to the President's budget and in the Bi-partisan agreement to provide employment training and job opportunities to disadvantaged, out-of-school youth.
We will be able to offer retraining for over 600,000 laid- off workers.
We will be able to increase adult training by 19 percent, so we can serve an additional 40,000 disadvantaged men and women-- many of whom are welfare recipients.
We will be able to continue School-to-Work at the same levels--so that students in all 50 states and in all your cities will be able to prepare today for jobs tomorrow.
We will be able to serve almost 70,000 young people in the Job Corps, because funding rises 7 percent. Now let me take a few moments to talk--from very personal experience--about the benefits of our Job Corps program. I have seen--through the eyes of a family member, my cousin Joe--that Job Corps can turn a young person's life around. When Joe spoke at my swearing-in ceremony two months ago, he reminded the Vice President, a packed auditorium of Labor Department employees . . . and his cousin, the new Labor Secretary, that to him . . .and to countless others, Job Corps was so much more than just another government program--it was a life saver. I want to take this opportunity to remind all of you Mayors that you have thousands of cousin Joes in your cities--and Job Corps can and will make a difference in their lives.
I am also proud that we -- and, really, you -- will be able to offer nearly 637,000 disadvantaged young people summer jobs -- and year-round programs as well.
All this is important. But we have one important challenge remaining--to help people move off welfare . . . and on to a job.
For welfare reform to succeed, there must be enough jobs for welfare recipients.
We are committed to help people gain the skills and information to help them get real jobs in the private sector--and keep those jobs. And we believe that work must pay for any person struggling to get off welfare.
I want to work with you to help our cities--and our society- -meet this challenge. This effort should be designed and implemented at the local level -- because you know how to make it work. And it should be linked with our department's proven job training and employment system -- because experience has taught us all how to make it work for working Americans.
That is why when the President announced the Welfare to Work initiative, he indicated it would be a 3-year, $3 billion effort.
And we will fight to make sure that this money goes to the people who need it the most . . . and that you have the control and flexibility to make sure that happens. The President's initiative provides resources to your cities--in partnership with the Labor Department, the workforce development system, and Private Industry Councils. The effort is coordinated with HUD and HHS.
The goal is not only to create good jobs for people who are hardest to place, but to provide needed services for retention and advancement.
The President--with your help--fought hard to get this program into the Bipartisan Budget Agreement.
As we speak, the House and Senate are negotiating and renegotiating the shape of the program as each house prepares to vote on the Budget this week.
The Bipartisan Bill reported from the House Ways and Means Committee most closely follows the President's principles. Funds flow through the Labor Department in two ways: a formula targeted to cities on the basis of need and competitive grants targeted to the cities with the poorest populations. The proposal utilizes the employment and training system, which is directed by you and other local elected officials who have the relationships with your local business community.
The resolution you will consider this morning, and the letter that Mayor Helmke and more than 200 Mayors sent to the Senate yesterday endorses this approach. The details change moment by moment . . . but one thing is clear: your participation is critical.
Moving people from welfare to work is at your door step. I am not unaware that this can be both a burden and a blessing. Your success stories are a powerful tool in winning the battle on Capitol Hill--and more important, in helping people move into the workforce.
The past few days, I have been meeting with Mayors and learning about the creative programs that are under way. It is clear to me that cities are back!
The proof is in Mayor Rice's Seattle Jobs Initiative, Mayor Morial's "work revival," Mayor Archer's "Detroit Works," and your incoming president, Mayor Helmke's commitment of moving Fort Wayne's youth from school to work. These are just a few of the models of innovation that must be shared and replicated in cities across our great nation. I want to work with all of you throughout the legislative process to maximize our opportunities and our partnership for the future.
Moving one million people from welfare to work in four years will not be easy . . . but I know that it is doable . . . our challenges are not insurmountable if we keep the faith . . . together.
I was raised in the belief that, next to family and faith, the most important thing in our lives was the work that we do.
Work affirms our faith in humanity . . . and gives us the opportunity to make our own unique contribution to our community, our country and our world.
So let me close by thanking you for all that you have done . . . and all that you will do in the future to give every American the ability . . . and the opportunity . . . to a life blessed with the amazing dignity of work.
Thank you. And God bless each and every one of you and the fine work that you do.