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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
National Council of Negro Women
Washington, DC
December 2, 2009

Good morning.

It's a pleasure to be here.

Thank you Tina (Tchen) for that kind introduction.

I want to thank Tina Tchen (Chen) for work she's done for women and families, and the great work she is doing in the Office of Public Engagement and as Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

Dorothy Height may be in the audience. I also want to acknowledge and thank Dr. Height for her decades of hard work for equality and human rights.

I'm proud to be part of the Obama Administration and serve my country as the Secretary of Labor. And I am proud to be part of an Administration dedicated to improving the lives of America's women and girls. I'm honored to work among a diverse group of women leaders in this administration, and to join the ranks of the largest contingent of African American women and Latina's to work for this president.

I entered public life to improve opportunities for families like mine — hard working families that wanted a better life for their children … and worked hard to achieve the American Dream. I grew up in an era when graduating from high school was an accomplishment, and expectations of young women were low … especially for women of color. My high school guidance counselor told me that I was best suited for a career as a secretary...an office assistant to be exact. He was right, I am suited be a Secretary … the Secretary of Labor! I was the first in my family to attend college, and I'm proud to say that my younger sisters followed the same path.

You must know that I am a product of the women's movement … the social justice movement … and the civil rights movement. I come from a home that valued hard work and taught me to provide a lending hand to your neighbor when they are in need.

All of these experiences and lessons have shaped me and my goal for the Department of Labor. My goal is simple ... a good job for everyone. Good jobs are:

  • Jobs that can support a family by increasing incomes and narrowing the wage gap.
  • Jobs that are safe and secure, and give people a voice in the workplace.
  • Jobs that are sustainable — like green jobs.
  • And jobs that rebuild and restore a strong middle class.

Good jobs are still a challenge for many of our young African-American and Latino brothers and sisters. And even though women have made great strides in education and in the job market, we need to take a closer look at the realities.

Women make up nearly half of the labor force, but we still hold a majority of low wage jobs and hold very few positions at the top. We still face unchecked discrimination and harassment in the workplace. And we still haven't closed the pay gap, with African American women making only 68 cents, and Latinas making only 57 cents compared to white men.

Older African-American women and Latinas live in poverty at double the rate of their white counterparts, many retiring with little or no retirement savings.

In our communities, we know women of color often have long borne the burden of balancing work and family as the primary breadwinner and caretaker for children and parents. During these harsh economic times, it's even harder or even impossible to hold a job and take care of our families … 22 million working women don't have one single sick day.

An astonishing 59% of low-wage workers are women and women make up 67% of the part-time workforce. And the recession has again brought to light long-standing disparities in employment status among racial and ethnic groups. A subject we all know too well. African-Americans and Latinos faced double-digit unemployment rates well before the recent national average of 10.2%.

This is unacceptable to me and to our President.

Getting Americans back to work is the single-most important part of my work, and I am dedicated to ensuring that everyone has access to a Good Job! And while we are working to help American families get back on their feet, this Administration is making investments in women and girls a priority for his presidency.

The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers. As Labor Secretary, I am committed to restoring protections against pay discrimination and promoting programs to advance women in the workforce.

And I am proud to say that the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau is the only part of the federal government specifically tasked with helping to improve the lives of working women, and I am excited to help the Bureau increase its work and outreach.

Our Women's Bureau Deputy Director, Latifa Lyles, is here today and will tell you more about the Bureau's initiatives. The Women's Bureau will have an aggressive agenda aimed at improving the lives of women workers, improving their working conditions, and advancing their employment opportunities in high growth industries.

With that said, families are depending more and more on working women's wages. This is why it's more important than ever that we:

  • Encourage and support more young women in non-traditional and science, technology, engineering, math and health fields;
  • Demand fair and equitable wages and work to close the pay gap;
  • Reject discrimination and harassment in the workplace;
  • Provide flexible workplace and leave options that reflect the reality of today's labor force, including paid family leave, child care benefits and support services.

All of these issues are important to advancing the rights of women and American families in the workplace. However, we need to continue to work to make sure that women, and specifically women of color, have opportunities to jobs and careers in the 21st century economy.

At the Department of Labor, we are investing $500 millionfor high-growth job training projects, including green jobs. And on November 18th, we announced the first round of grant recipients, to the tune of $55 million. These grants will support job training and labor market information programs to help workers, many in underserved communities, find jobs in expanding green industries.

These investments went to groups like the Urban Leagues in Broward County, Florida and Springfield, Illinois, and WINTER — Women in Non-traditional Employment Roles in California. These organizations will be able to reach the women workers and workers in the African American and Latino communities who should have access and every opportunity to compete in the emerging sector of green jobs.

This significant investment will not only create jobs now, but also lay a new foundation for economic and job growth, and we are making sure that women receive the tools to be competitive in this field.

We also know that allied health and information technology are two of the fastest growing sectors in our economy. That is why my agency announced approximately $220 million in competitive grants to train workers in these high-growth occupations. And we will work to ensure that women have access to these growing fields — because these are the jobs of the 21st century economy.

But there is no more important issue to women and families than health insurance reform. When it comes to the cost of health care, this much is clear: the status quo is unsustainable for families, businesses and government. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of uninsured U.S. residents increased by 7.9 million. It is evident that health care costs are crushing family, business and government budgets. Our failure to rise to the challenge of fixing a broken health care system — something Washington has talked about for decades — has led us to a breaking point.

Now is the time to stand together, to pass true health care reform, so that all Americans and their families have quality health care now and in the future.

Women and families are facing tough times, and they need a federal government that will work with them and provide them with the necessary tools they need to succeed.

That's the President's commitment, and it's my commitment.

I hope that you stand with us and help to continue to usher in the change that we all believe in.

Thank you for being here.