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

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
White House Black History Month Briefing
Friday, February 25, 2011

Good afternoon everyone. Buenas Tardes!

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

I join all of you here in solidarity.

Humbled by your leadership and inspired by generations of proud struggle and great progress.

Today we remember those who have paved a path of opportunity, bold visionaries who dreamed, fearless leaders that challenged the status quo, who defied the odds and changed the course of American history.

These lessons, however, apply to all people of color who have struggled as well.

And today, as I look around the room, I see a group of people doing the same.

A broad coalition of strong men and women who continue to dream; who together are committed to re-building this nation and winning the future for all Americans.

That's what we have to do!

We must rebuild this great nation!

And it's going to take all of us working smarter to make it happen!

I know times are tough. And I know that in tough times, our country's most vulnerable communities get hit the hardest.

But I also know this: We've been here before.

America is no stranger to the challenges we face today.

We've persevered... and guess what — we'll do it again! We have to!

And we'll come out better, smarter, and stronger because of it!

In preparing for these remarks, I couldn't help but think of a poster that is up right now in the elevators at the Department of Labor.

It's a tribute to African-American history.

And it's not a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Harriet Tubman — not because these two haven't made history — they have, and we have honored them.

It's a picture of boxing champion, minister, entrepreneur, and one of our oldest TV commercial friends, Mr. George Foreman — yes, George Foreman.

And no, it's not of him selling a grill!

George is a proud graduate of our nation's Job Corps program. Not many people know that.

Growing up, George was a trouble-maker, a self-proclaimed "brawler" in his hometown of Marshall, Texas.

And he credits the Job Corps program with transforming his life. And he went on to win — over, and over again.

I'm not surprised. With over 60,000 students enrolled, the job corps program continues to give disadvantaged youth a second chance.

And it is only one of the many ways this administration plans to win the future for all Americans.

I believe government has a role.

I was taught that government could level the playing field for our communities.

And now, more than ever, our role is to get this country back on track; to put this country back to work with good-paying jobs; to provide opportunities for all Americans.

And, yes, to pay special attention to the places in this country that need us the most.

Places like the one I grew up in, and like the ones I represented in East Los Angeles.

Places where good people continue to dream like I did.

They too, deserve to make it if they try. They too, deserve to dream.

President Obama gets that and so do I.

And over the last two years at the Department of Labor, we've made significant strides on behalf of African-Americans and all communities of color.

We've made a meaningful mark in the community.

In my time as Labor Secretary, I've had the chance to meet with a broad range of stakeholders.

From the African American executives of Corporate America, to the black fishermen and women in the Mexican Gulf devastated by the oil spill, I've made my mission clear: I want good joss and I want them for everyone.

These are the people I think about when I report the unemployment numbers each month.

It's no secret that African Americans suffer from higher unemployment rates.

And while the numbers can get complicated, the story is simple: We have a ways to go.

And this is a long-standing challenge that the Obama Administration is determined to address.

There are promising signs in the labor market.

Right now one out of five African-American workers is employed in the health and social service industry, an industry with high projected growth.

By 2018, this industry is expected to add 4 million jobs to the economy.

I'm a big believer in connecting businesses directly to job seekers.

Our WIA programs do just that — 19% of its participants were African-American and 15% were Latino.

Our Trade Adjustment Assistance program has linked nearly 12,000 African Americans whose jobs were shipped overseas with employment opportunities.

Our "Pathways Out of Poverty" grants which provided $150 million to disadvantaged communities find ways out of poverty with jobs in green and renewable industries.

And more than 2 million African Americans and nearly half a million Latinos benefitted from Unemployment Insurance which — by the way — I firmly believe is not only a vital safety net for working families but an economic necessity during tough times.

And in tough times, as we look to win the future, we must continue to invest in the present.

You see, like many of you, I stand here today on the shoulders of great sacrifice.

Like many of you, someone told me I had a shot.

Like many of you, I was given a chance to be better.

And today, we have an obligation to do the same — to think about our children and grandchildren;

To think about their future — because it is indeed theirs that hangs in the balance.

We're doing that at the Department of Labor.

Some of you may know about our Youth Build program — a program that provides job training and educational opportunities for low-income or at-risk youth — 60% of it participants are African-American and 20% are Latino.

We've also funded a number of youth activities, including summer jobs for youth of which 44% were African American and over one-quarter were Latino.

And I'm proud to tell you that nearly half of all of those enrolled in our nation's Job Corps program are African-American.

And just last month, along with Secretary Arne Duncan,

I announced Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program — it's a mouthful, I know. But I love talking about it!

Through this program the Department will award approximately $500 million directly to community colleges — of which 2.5 million dollars is designed to go to every state including Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

Its purpose: To accelerate learning, improve retention, and increase credentialing.

These grants promote innovation and foster partnerships with small business so that, together, colleges, their communities, and employers can create curriculum that matters, that's applicable, and that gets good jobs.

The bottom line is — in this economy, these grants make sense, especially for communities of color.

In this country, about half of all minority students attend community colleges and, in some states, more than two-thirds start a community college.

And when you consider that in the next decade nearly half of all job openings will be for "middle skill jobs,"

That is, jobs that require more than high school but less than a college degree, our investments are a no-brainer.

And a meaningful education and applicable training are key.

We've also announced:

  • $20 million for the Civic Justice Corps, to help youth offenders become meaningful parts of society
  • $11.7 million to help adult ex-offenders return home to jobs that better their communities
  • $40 million to support innovation in green job training

If we are going to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world, this is where our investments need to be.

And believe me; I know supporting small and minority owned business is critical.

These money-makers are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstone of our communities, creating two out of every three new jobs in America.

It's why President Obama has signed seventeen tax cuts for small businesses into law — giving these companies the confidence to hire, and the break they need to access the capital to do it.

And it's why in the last week I, along with the President other cabinet secretaries have been having one-on-one conversations with small businesses from around the country.

We want them to succeed. And we're giving them the support and the tools they need to do so.

Folks, this is how we honor the sacrifice of those who came before us.

It's how we write communities of color back into our history books. And it's how we fill the lives of future generations with hope and possibility.

Folks, this is how we win!

Make no mistake, we are doing big things.

Challenging times call for nothing less.

This administration has and will continue to support the advancement of all communities of color.

We are all in this together. And my department will proudly continue to do its part.

In the coming months we will announce a number of additional grant competitions.

We will:

  • Fund workers training for careers in the clean energy economy;
  • We will evaluate transitional jobs models focused on the needs of low-income non-custodial parents;
  • We will mentor young parents on economic self-sufficiency; and
  • We will continue to support career pathways programs at community colleges, — including those designated as Historically Black Colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions.

Indeed we are re-building this great nation.

Keeping in mind the creativity and contributions that African Americans — and all communities of color have made to our Nation's identity and culture — we move forward.

During Black History Month, we celebrate that progress. And together we embrace the movement that lies ahead.

Together we remain committed to creating an education system that works for everyone.

We continue to create job opportunities for everyone.

And we remain more than ever committed to protecting civil rights and ensuring equal opportunity for everyone.

In closing, I'd like to leave you with a line from one of my greatest mentors.

Cesar Chavez once said, "There's no turning back...We will win. We are winning because ours is a revolution of mind and heart."

With strength, patience and passion, we will continue to shape the destiny of this country.

Like the leaders who have come before us, we are creating a future worthy of this great nation.

A future where all who embrace hard work and dedication are guaranteed success.

And like those who have come before us, we won't turn back. We will win; because ours, like theirs, is a revolution of mind, and heart, too.

Thank you for all the work you continue to do in the lives of our nation's most in need.

And thank you so much for having me here today.

God bless you and God Bless the United States of America.