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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
Jobs for America's Graduates
Union Station, Washington, D.C.
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thank you for that very kind introduction.

It is a pleasure to be here at an event that I have really looked forward to because of its focus, as the President, Secretary Duncan and I have stressed since taking office... the focus on solutions.

Solutions that have been proven to work — especially for some of our most disadvantaged and at-risk populations.

I commend my friend and former colleague Governor Baldacci, the Board of Jobs for America's Graduates, the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific Caucuses, and their supporting organizations.

I would also like to thank Marc Morial of the National Urban League and Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza for organizing this event.

This is a great opportunity for real work on recommendations for taking "things that work" to scale through both federal and state policy and through much more effective use of various government and private sector funding streams.

It is a rare, great moment when these leadership organizations come together.

It could not have come at a better time as our administration looks ahead to future initiatives for high-risk, minority youth.

This is also a moment of great national challenge.

We are experiencing the highest unemployment rate among teenagers in decades, and for minority youth, unemployment is even higher.

Since I entered public service in California, I have made it one of my highest priorities to focus on solutions for meeting the most urgent needs of people — a good education, a good job and good healthcare — all have been at the very top of my list.

That is why I was pleased to play a leadership role in the development of the Green Jobs legislation in 2007.

Especially with the priority focus on new resources for the training of people to assure they had the skills needed to meet the country's dramatically expanded efforts to be "green" and to develop alternative sources of energy while improving conservation.

We need new skills to support our ability to expand our supply of clean, affordable and secure energy supplies and improve our conservation and efficiency strategies.

The good news is that demand creates an entirely new source of jobs and careers for Americans.

And I am unwavering in my commitment to ensure that our disadvantaged and at-risk populations have full access to that training.

Over the last year, I am proud to say that the Department of Labor has served more than 2.3 million workers through state employment-related services.

We have distributed $720 million in grants for career training in clean energy, health care and other high growth sectors.

And speaking of grants, today our Employment and Training Administration is launching a new Web site that offers pointers, tips, and tutorials on applying for funding.

This is going to help small community-based organizations and all those who have never applied for a grant to learn about the process and prepare competitive applications.

We have also expanded programs to serve disadvantaged youth over the past year. We have:

  • Funded an additional 75 YouthBuild projects to provide job training and educational opportunities for low-income or at-risk-out-of-school youth ages 16 to 24;
  • Invested over $200 million in over 40 shovel-ready construction projects to improve Job Corps facilities, which provide job training and education programs for economically disadvantaged youth; and
  • Provided funding for projects that employed over 300,000 summer youth, exceeding the goal of 250,000.

Today's event focuses on some important good news at a time of such great challenges for high-risk, minority youth.

The good news is that there are solutions that have been proven to work on a large national scale.

Those solutions, like Jobs for America's Graduates and the others that are present today, offer a compelling case that we can, in fact, do better with our education, employment and training strategies at the federal, state and local level.

Their successes offer great promise if — and that is the operative word here — if we can learn from those solutions, embed them in federal and state policy and effectively utilize existing resources to invest in those strategies that have been proven to work.

If we could take some of these strategies to true national scale and serve hundreds of thousands and then millions of high-risk, minority youth, it is clear we could dramatically improve:

  • Graduation rates and cut drop-out rates; and
  • Equally dramatically expand employment and career opportunities.

I am here because the Department of Labor is actively looking for solutions and recommendations from this group on how we can insert those solutions in the upcoming re-authorization of the Workforce Investment Act.

From day one at the Department of Labor, I have emphasized with my staff the importance of being engaged in WIA reauthorization.

We want to better align the workforce system to focus on good jobs, and to ensure that the system is accessible and effective for everyone.

As the country is still in challenging economic times, it is critical to reauthorize WIA now.

Through reauthorization, we can make changes that will enhance the ability of the workforce system to give American workers the skills and resources needed to obtain new jobs in today's economy.

We are also looking for ideas from this group on what additional initiatives we should take to more effectively assist high-risk, minority youth in getting the skills and employment and career opportunities that will drive down the unemployment rate among teenagers in the short term.

And, over the longer term, combat the long-standing historical fact of teenage unemployment being far higher than the national average.

There is no more important priority to the President, to me or the administration than identifying solutions and committing ourselves to take advantage of proven solutions for our most disadvantaged populations in employment, education, training and healthcare.

If we are to be successful in implementing solutions for high-risk, minority youth, there must be better coordination and communication between the state and federal government... especially how we utilize our combined resources.

We all know how easy that sounds - and just how hard that is.

This administration came into office based on a commitment to change that status quo.

We came here to bring new hope and new opportunities and to change the way government serves the people in the face of the deep recession that has gripped the country.

That is what we will do — and that is why I am here.

Governor Baldacci, I look forward to meeting with you and your colleagues to be briefed on the findings and recommendations from today.

You have my commitment to listen carefully and to take action and to partner with all organizations that can help to achieve our shared goals.

Also, I look forward to working with my colleagues in the three Congressional Caucuses in developing the next round of legislation including the re-authorization of the Workforce Investment Act.

The National Urban League has been a leader for decades in advocating for the needs for economically disadvantaged youth and adults — especially the need for good jobs as the centerpiece of economic viability for individuals and families.

NCLR has also been a steadfast voice of advocacy and has had great success in pulling together the many elements of the Latino community behind public policy and programmatic strategies to improve education, healthcare, employment and self-sufficiency.

I commend you all for coming together around these issues, for keeping the attention of the Congress and the administration, Governors and state level leaders on "what works."

My special appreciation to ING and the many companies and organizations that have come together behind this effort as well.

Together, we can bring new hope, new opportunity and new educational and economic success that will end, forever, the achievement and economic success disparities among our minority populations.

Thank you all for your leadership and thank you to for what you are doing on behalf of minority youth.

Thank you.