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

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
2010 National Urban League Annual Conference
Celebrating 100 Years, "Women of Power Awards Luncheon"
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Washington, D.C.

Good afternoon!

It's a pleasure to be here today...

I want to thank your President and Chief Executive Officer, Marc Morial and the executive staff, the board leadership, the members... everyone... thank you for inviting me to join you today, as we celebrate National Urban League's 100 years of existence!!!

If only some of the founders could see how far you have taken this organization... I'm sure Ruth Baldwin or Dr. George Haynes, would tell you all:

"Congratulations for having over 100 National Urban League affiliates in 35 states and here in Washington, D.C."

It's an honor to belong to an organization that is working to improve the lives of African Americans.

This organization has helped many of you improve various aspects of your life... maybe it was economical, educational, obtaining affordable housing, or a health plan, or giving you inspiration to take the next step in life.

I'm talking about the role models you have met here at the National Urban League.

Some of those amazing women are sitting near or next to you at this moment.

They are the women rising to leadership positions in their field of work.

They are actresses, CEO's, athletes, journalists, activists... women from various professions... whom today will be recognized for their leadership!

How about we have them stand up as we give them a round of applause.


Well deserved ladies, congratulations to all of you!

No wonder this luncheon is called "Women of Power."

Their energy is felt across the room.

You will be surprised how many other young women - even men - see you as a role model today.

Others want to follow your foot steps and learn from you.

You know, as I travel across the states and to other countries, I am constantly asked how I got to my current position.

And my answer is probably similar to yours... and my life experiences are like to yours.

I'm not shy to talk about my humble upbringing; I share my personal story openly.

Growing up with very little taught me to appreciate the bigger things in life such as: dignity, love, and respect.

...And growing up at a time during the fight for civil rights made me realize I had a lot to fight for too!

I decided to be an advocate for a silent community and I have been a public servant for more than 20 years now.

I know there are fancier titles for the jobs I've held but I am working for you - the people - to help you obtain your share of the pie... so you are not forgotten.

So you have a voice and someone is representing your needs.

That has been my job and that is still my commitment to this day.

When I served in California's legislature:

  • I authored close to 20 state laws aimed at combating domestic violence;
  • I helped obtain funds to create programs to help decrease teen pregnancy;
  • I increased the number of college female staff and the number of people of color entering college in my community;
  • I wrote a historic environmental law - actually the only one of its kind in the United State - to protect disadvantaged communities from having to put their health at risk by living near factories with toxic pollutants, waste disposals, dumps, and landfills.
  • And I introduced and supported legislation to help families of color receive health-care, affordable housing, job opportunities, or join programs to help people start their own business.

At the federal level, I continued fighting for those causes and today as the Secretary of Labor, my vision for a better life, for a better future, for a better job for everyone... remains the same.

And now more than ever, everyone here — you and I — need to work together to make more dreams come true.

Especially because we are at a time when more African-Americans and Latinos are dropping out of high school in larger numbers than any other group.

On graduation day 2010, 71% of all students received their diploma.

Sadly, barely half of African-American and Latino students reached that goal.

That means that about 7,000 students are dropping out of high school every single day according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

And as high school drop-outs, they will be earning below 20 thousand a year.

On the other hand, one-third of young women in the United States become pregnant during their teens.

African American and Hispanic women have the highest teen pregnancy rates.

For every one thousand women, 126 African Americans and 127 Latinas between the ages of 15-19 will become pregnant according to statistics.

Teenage pregnancies are associated with increased rates of alcohol and substance abuse, lower educational level, lower annual income for the female and the father.

Eighty percent of teen mothers must rely on welfare at some point.

By dropping out of high school or becoming pregnant at a very young age... these young and I'm sure talented youth are losing the opportunity to become our future scientists, doctors, astronauts... even President of the United States.

At the Department of Labor, with the support of President Barack Obama, we have made a commitment to invest millions of dollars to help a diverse community prepare for the jobs of tomorrow by creating opportunities today.

Our highest priority in this Administration is to create jobs and we are working on this every single day.

Because we know the numbers are not good... and millions of families' pockets are hurting today.

You've seen it on the news.

This past June, African Americans had the highest unemployment rate, exceeding both Latinos and Caucasians at 15.6% to be exact, followed by 12.3% for Latinos.

And when it comes to African American youth, they are at an alarming 46% unemployment rate.

Almost half of all African American youth need work.

The Department of Labor is doing many things to address this problem.

And let me just say, that had this Administration not had worked to get the Recovery Act passed, we would be in a lot worst shape today... here's what we're doing:

  • We are helping people that lost their job find a new one by providing over $3 billion in unemployment insurance; and
  • We are retraining workers in several high-in-demand fields of work like clean and renewable energy, health care and information technology investing $720 million.
  • We have invested over $200 million to improve Job Corps facilities, which provide job training and education programs for economically disadvantaged youth.
  • 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 $20 million to serve young adult offenders and high school dropouts; and
  • We are also are providing funds to help our Veterans, both male and female with job training, job placement, and counseling services.

And these are just some of the many other programs we have in place throughout the country.

Now when it comes to promoting women in the workplace, we are the only federal government agency with a department dedicated to improve the lives of women — it's called the Women's Bureau and it's headed by a wonderful and such hard working woman, Sara Manzano-Diaz.

She's here with us today.

Sara doesn't walk, she runs with all of our projects, literally.

Let me highlight some of the wonderful things we are doing at the Women Bureau.

First starters, the bureau is focused on promoting work-life balance, equal pay, state paid leave, and opportunities for the advancement of all women in the United States.

The Women's Bureau currently has 9 regional green job training projects around the country.

I'm proud to say that our Department has established a $50 million State Paid Leave Fund that will provide grants to help advance paid leave programs in all 50 states.

This past June, I announced $1.8 million dollars in grants to support women in non-traditional occupations because women too deserve the opportunity to train and prepare for the jobs — that are and will be — in high demand.

One of our priorities is to connect women to high-paying, high-growth occupations such as green jobs, in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The Women's Bureau is making sure that everyone takes advantage of various benefits they are entitled to... such as leave time granted by the Family Medical Leave Act.

Because women today are not only housewives, they are also professionals... and we all know that everyone encounters family emergencies.

We are supportive of the Healthy Family Act because this law assures that workers will not lose their job or be disciplined just because their children are sick.

And those circumstances should be respected for EVERYONE, regardless of your gender or field of work.

I am a firm believer that women should have the security of taking time off without the fear of losing her job.

Especially because in many households today women still have a job while the husband is unemployed.

In many cases, families depend on the women's paycheck.

Although... it's unfortunate that females continue earning less than men.

The wage gap between men and women is 80 cents for each dollar a man is earning.

And for women of color, the wage gap is even greater — African American women earn just 69 cents, and Latinas 60 cents, for each dollar earned by white men.

Ladies, we have a battle to fight here.

But on a brighter side, more women are taking risks in many fields of work.

Just to give you an example:

The most recent survey of business owners from 2002 shows that women owned 6.5 million U.S. firms, accounting approximately 28.2 percent of all firms in the U.S.

Let me read you the numbers:

There were 1.9 million black-owned businesses in 2007, up 60.5 percent from 2002.

And since 2001 the number of African American women owned businesses grew by 46%.

Receipts of these businesses totaled $137.4 billion, up 55.1 percent from 2002.

Hispanic-owned businesses totaled 2.3 million in 2007, up 43.6 percent from 2002... with receipts totaling $345.2 billion, up 55.5 percent from 2002.

And some of those outstanding business women are here today!!!

In short... I just want you all to know that the Department of Labor is working to improve the lives of all people in this country, not only women or our youth... absolutely everyone.

After taking oath as the 25th Secretary of Labor, I directed our Department to operate under the following phrase:

"Good and safe jobs for everyone."

That's what we are working towards every single day.

Whether it is a roundtable or a conference... we intend to bring women and men - from all backgrounds together - with one purpose — to unite and work together to bring about the change we want.

The U.S. Department of Labor's goals are the same goals as the National Urban League.

That's why we value our partnership with your organization.

So, I extend my hand out to the National Urban League... I want to work with all of you and to be a partner.

I have only mentioned a few of the many programs at the Department of Labor and we want you to benefit from these federal funds and opportunities.

I know you are eager to continue working and advancing... but I ask you not to forget to reach below and to pull the next generation up behind you.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'what are you doing for others?"

Together we can continue to improve the lives of others in our communities and across this great country.

National Urban League... it was a pleasure being here today.

Thank you... Muchas gracias.