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

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Sixteenth Inter-American Conference of Ministers of Labor
Buenos Aires, Argentina
October 7, 2009

Ministers, Mr. Secretary General, Mr. Director General and esteemed colleagues:

Buenos dias, bom dia, bon jour and good morning. Es un honor y placer estar con todos ustedes.
I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to our host, Minister Tomada, for making this meeting possible and for extending such warm hospitality to all of us. I am delighted to visit this beautiful city.

I also want to congratulate Minister Dumas for his stewardship of this conference during the past two years. I had the privilege of meeting Minister Dumas when I accompanied President Obama to the Summit of the Americas in April. In Port of Spain it was my pleasure to address the Americas Workers Forum and the Private Sector Forum and to talk directly to labor and business leaders about their priorities.

That was a time of anxiety. Economies were in a downward spiral, and workers throughout the Americas and the world were facing job loss and hardship. But it was also a time to turn a corner and to forge new partnerships based on mutual respect and shared interests. Since then our governments have taken many actions, both individually and collectively, to change the trajectory of the global economy.

Many of our fiscal initiatives have focused on our greatest resource — our workers. As President Obama has said, the major indicators of success in the United States will be jobs and incomes. Just last week, leaders of the G-20 countries reaffirmed that job creation and support for workers should be central goals of our ongoing recovery efforts. We are pleased that Minister Tomada and Director General Somavia were present at the summit and we are encouraged by the leaders' statement of support for the goals of the ILO Global Jobs Pact.

And at the G-20 Summit, President Obama called upon me to host the Ministers of Labor from the G-20 countries at a meeting to take place early in 2010. I look forward to facilitating this meeting and to the opportunity to work with you all to ensure its productivity.

Our responses to the economic crisis must provide greater economic security and more opportunities for equitable advancement. I believe sustained growth will only return if workers are protected by labor laws that are effectively enforced and if workers have the right to collective bargaining. I also believe that we need fair rules for global markets, so that workers everywhere are able to enjoy these rights.

President Obama has stated that he does not view the labor movement as part of the problem, but as a big part of the solution. I agree. From the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, health insurance, paid leave and pensions — they are all the result of the work of organized labor. The fact is that we cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. That is why President Obama and I support efforts to level the playing field — so it is easier for workers to form unions.

We are also focused on the employer. Small businesses are critical to the economic recovery and equitable advancement. They have created 70% of new jobs … and employed half of everyone working in the private sector. At my Department we are working to provide greater technical assistance for small businesses. And our administration has taken action to increase access to loan guarantees and support tax policies to help these businesses grow.

Yet our challenges in the United States are not insignificant. When President Obama came into office, the United States faced the worst economy since the Great Depression in 1929. The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II and, just like today, had devastating effects in virtually every country. Just months before I became the Secretary of Labor, we were losing an average of 700,000 jobs per month, and our economy had contracted by 6.3% — the worst performance since 1982.

15 million people are unemployed. Our unemployment rate is 9.8%. African Americans are unemployed at a rate of 15.4% and Latinos are unemployed at a rate of 12.7%. Our youth are unemployed at a rate of 25.9%. Older workers are struggling with employment that can lead them to a secure retirement.

Our central goal in addressing the crisis, from our first day in office, has been to protect and restore the livelihoods of those who have been victims of the crisis. To accomplish this, President Obama initiated a multi-faceted strategy requiring implementation by multiple U.S. Government agencies. He asked his labor, economic, environmental, education, housing and health advisors to formulate and implement strategies to end this recession and restore economic security.

Earlier this morning, you heard about the role our Treasury Department has played during these challenging economic times from my colleague, Dr. Alan Krueger, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Treasury. The program we developed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is designed to: increase aggregate demand through direct government investment; increase workers' disposable incomes through targeted tax cuts; increase the amount and duration of unemployment benefits; and, provide financial support to help state and local governments avoid layoffs and cuts in services.

At my Department, I am paying particular attention to ensuring that our policies serve the vulnerable and that they respond to the needs of those most severely impacted by the economic crisis, including young people, women and people of color.

We are providing opportunities so that new or displaced workers can receive training in emerging areas such as health care, information technology and clean energy. We extended access to health insurance for workers who have lost their jobs.

Our efforts to modernize the unemployment insurance system will help women and part-time workers. In the changing economy, 59% of low-wage workers are women and 67% of the part-time workforce are women. Families depend on these wages — yet women continue to make only 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man and only 33% of unemployed women receive unemployment support. Efforts to modernize not only help these workers — but provide states with a needed economic boost.

Between May and July 2009, more than 297,000 young people served with Recovery Act resources were able to participate in summer employment. And over 1.4 million individuals have received re-employment services funded by the Recovery Act.

I am confident that these efforts are making a difference because the Recovery Act has also kept Americans working. To date more than 30,000 Recovery Act initiatives have been approved. More than one million new jobs were created that would not have existed without the plan. And countless businesses — both small and large — have said they avoided layoffs thanks to the Recovery Act.

60% percent of the $499 billion estimated in spending under the Recovery Act will be obligated before the end of the year. This includes a plan to provide $5 billion in capital to more than 12,000 small businesses. I am proud that my colleagues at the Departments of Treasury and Energy have provided more than $1 billion to companies investing in clean energy.

While we address employment and workplace issues, my cabinet colleagues are working to help people save their homes from foreclosure, ensure access to health care and other social services, receive a quality education for their children, keep our financial system solvent, support small businesses, and create jobs.

Together we are bringing workforce training and jobs to residents of government funded housing so they are part of the economic recovery. And we are investing in policies to bring the next generation of manufacturing jobs to the United States.

14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day, and the cost of health care is crippling businesses. So we are also hard at work on strengthening our health insurance system for all of our citizens.

Today, the Recovery Act is helping to stabilize conditions in the U.S. economy while easing the situation of those in greatest need. The Council of Economic Advisors indicates that the recovery dollars are having a substantial positive impact of real growth and employment. The Recovery Act added roughly 2.3 percentage points to real GDP growth in the second quarter of 2009, and is likely to add even more in the third quarter.

My goal as U.S. Secretary of Labor is Good Jobs for Everyone. Let me be clear what I mean by "good jobs": These are jobs that can support a family; jobs that are safe and secure; jobs that give people a voice in the workplace; and jobs that help rebuild a strong middle class.

I know that the difficult times are not over — particularly for workers. Employment recovery typically lags behind other economic indicators and continued increases in unemployment are projected through the end of this year. Even in an improving economic environment, workers will continue to face obstacles to good jobs for some time. Governments must continue to focus on job creation and help for the most vulnerable.

As Ministers of Labor, we will be asked to respond to the needs of workers and job seekers well after the official end of the recession. We come from diverse economies, and we face different challenges. But we share similar values and goals. Our aim is to strengthen the foundations for economic recovery, raise standards of living, and ensure that these gains do not elude the poor and most vulnerable. We must move people out of poverty and into good paying jobs with the benefit of social protections. We must ensure that basic worker rights are protected. Forums such as our Inter-American Conference provide an important opportunity for us to learn from each other, to share our successes, and to learn from our failures.

In the spirit of applauding the good work of this conference's cooperative activities, I am pleased to announce this morning that the United States government is contributing new funding to help sustain the activities of the Inter-American Network for Labor Administration.

I look forward to identifying ways to address both the immediate challenges of the crisis, and the longer term steps necessary to improve the lives of working people and build a more prosperous and more equitable community of the Americas.

Thank you... Muchisimas gracias.

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