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

Remarks by Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor
National Conference of Black Mayors Legislative Policy Summit,
Washington, DC
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Good afternoon everyone. Buenas tardes. Thank you for having me here. And thank you, Brandon for that kind introduction. I'd like to begin by thanking your leadership for inviting me to speak this afternoon — Vanessa Williams and Mayor Bowser — Muchas Gracias. It's great to be here.

And I'd like to thank all of YOU — the many mayors here — for the good work you do everyday. You have tough jobs, and I know it's not easy. But even in these tough times — sometimes against all odds — you continue to step up to the plate. And I know it's because you care deeply — not only about the people in your communities — but about the future this country, too. So thank you for tireless dedication and continued leadership on behalf of our nation's most vulnerable people.

This meeting comes at an important time. The conversation about our economic recovery is getting sharper by the day. We're at a time when Americans everywhere are asking some very tough questions about how we spur economic growth. We need to have frank discussions like this one, with folks like all of you, about the challenges and opportunities our economic situation provides.

So I'm here today as a resource. I want to address those challenges head-on, and I want to help define the very real opportunities we can provide at the Department of Labor to help.

But let me assure you that I know a lot of folks are frustrated with the pace of our recovery — the President has even said that he wished jobs were being created more quickly. I know these are challenging times for you, and especially for your constituents. The challenges we talk about in Washington are the things you actually see day-in and day-out in your neighborhoods.

As states continue to grapple with budget deficits, you're being forced to make decisions about cutting vital services like community rec centers, workforce development and youth services, and health clinics. It's not easy, and I got a taste of it last month.

I traveled to Memphis to honor the Sanitation Worker's Strike of 1968. And I had the opportunity to meet with AC Wharton, the Mayor of Memphis. I was in there to induct the sanitation workers who marched with Dr. King back in 1968 into the Labor Hall of Fame. We honored their contributions to the civil rights movement and to the fight for workplace justice in America.

It just so happened, our visit to Memphis came at a time when Mayor Wharton was confronted with a very difficult situation that illustrates the painful choices that must be made at the local level. The City of Memphis is facing a $70 million budget shortfall. And members of the City Council are trying to push through a plan to privatize the city's sanitation services. Tremendous cost savings could be realized, but Mayor Wharton wants to do right by these historic workers.

So, I was pleased to see that he refused to strip these workers of their collective bargaining rights, but I understand why he had to take a very hard-nosed line during negotiations with the local AFSCME union.

This type of shared sacrifice, where workers must forgo pay raises and contribute more to their health care and benefits, is necessary. But, of course, it's also very difficult because middle class families are struggling in this recession. I don't envy your jobs, but I can certainly empathize with what you're going through.

Everyone is feeling the crunch.

Congressional Republicans have used our fiscal situation to ram through cuts to important programs. Every federal agency, including mine, has been affected. We are being forced to do more with less, and we are relying in part on local governments to help harness the collective power of private organizations, community groups, financial institutions and advocacy leaders.

We're at a critical time. And we've still got a lot to get done.

We need to continue to make smart investments in education, in skills training and advanced manufacturing. And we need to continue to support the economic growth of small and minority businesses. So much of what we do at the Labor Department impacts your neighborhoods. So it's important that we keep our thumb on the pulse of the African American Community.

A couple of weeks ago, we released a report on the Black Labor Force and its status in our economic recovery. My staff has provided copies of it to all of you today.

African-Americans made up 12 percent of the United States labor force in 2010. And their average unemployment rate 16 percent — higher than both whites, and Latinos. In 2010, blacks remained unemployed longer than whites or Hispanics. And black youth had significantly higher unemployment rates than their adult counterparts.

The list goes on and on. But for those of you who have read the report, you can see that the numbers speak for themselves. And they send one big message: We've got to do more.

Now look, this administration has made historic investments in the black community. From education, to the auto industry, to small businesses, and onto skills training, we've taken strong strides on behalf of African Americans.

I'm very proud of that. Let me remind you that just two and half years ago entire industries were being threatened. Credit had frozen. Our economy was on the verge of total collapse. But thanks to this President, and to the swift actions of this administration, we pulled this country from back from the brink.

And at that time, mayors like all of you were asking to make it easier to access federal funding. You asked for relief to be funneled directly into communities like the ones you represent. So that's what we did.

I set out to meet fisherman in the Gulf Coast, and assembly workers in Detroit, and solar panel makers in Memphis — all of which had a hand in crafting DOL programs that have reached millions of African Americans to date.

We've provided employment services to more than 4 million African Americans. Over 100,000 black dislocated workers who went through our WIA training programs found jobs. On clean energy, our Pathways out of Poverty Grants pumped $150 million into communities of color to provide training for green jobs.

We've asked employers from around the country to create summer jobs for at-risk youth. To date, our private sector partners have provided nearly 80,000 summer job opportunities to keep kids off the street. Our Youth Build and Job Corps programs — designed to provide opportunities to young people opportunities — continue to give low-income youth a second chance. Last year, 60% of YouthBuild participants were black and nearly half of the Job Corps students came from the American Community.

And let's not forget about the tax package President Obama signed last year that extended Unemployment Insurance. Because of it, an estimated 1.1 million African Americans will get a "new lease on life." So we've done a lot to keep people afloat in this economy.

And we've relied much on your ability as mayors to educate communities and stakeholders and to convene key players to maximize impact. Moving forward will be no different.

We will need you to help us re-authorize the Workforce Investment Act, to make our programs better and more accessible. As the country is still in challenging economic times, it is critical to reauthorize WIA now and we need your voices on Capitol Hill. We need you to write to congress and make calls to your Senator.

Only 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.

And we need you to continue to convening key stakeholders and we need you to continue to work with your local "one stop career centers" to take advantage of the resources we offer at the Labor Department.

Just yesterday, I hosted an event at the Department of Labor with Attorney General, Eric Holder to discuss strategies about how to provide ex-offenders the support they need to come back into their communities, get good jobs, and do good by their neighbors.

One in every fifteen African-American adults is incarcerated. And, every year, more than 700,000 people in America are released from state and federal prisons, and another 9 million cycle through local jails. About 100,000 juveniles are released from custody each year. And many return to struggling families and disadvantaged neighborhoods. This is a serious issue for communities of color — both socially and economically.

So, yesterday we announced $20 million in grant awards under our new Civic Justice Corps program to organizations working with young people who have served in the juvenile justice system.The Mayor's office in Baltimore is actually an award recipient and will receive over $1million in grant money. These grants will give young adults service opportunities and skills training that will help them go back to school and pursue career pathways.

And earlier this month, through our REXO program, we announced another $11 million in grants to provide job training and support services to adult offenders returning to their communities after having served time. It's all part of our effort to provide a community based, employment-centered approach to re-integration.

You should also know that we have a couple of grant competitions currently open that folks in your communities can take advantage of.

Take our H1-B Technical Skills Training Grants Program for example. We've made $240 million available to public/private partnerships that commit to creating training programs to support industries where employers are using H — 1B visas to hire foreign workers. We will award at least $150 million to those that provide On-the-Job Training (OJT) to provide skills in fields like allied health, advanced manufacturing, and IT.

We're trying to "bridge the gap" between the skills employers say they need and the skills the workforce system has traditionally provided. The application deadline for this pool of grant money is November 17.

We also have $33 million available under our Jobs Accelerator Challenge. This program focuses on supporting what are called "industry clusters." Some of the best-known clusters include the technology cluster in the Silicon Valley, the pharmaceutical cluster in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, and the energy cluster in Houston. Other states like Idaho, Oregon and Washington participate in multi-state food manufacturing clusters.

When innovation and collaboration are infused into communities like these, they create and retain higher-wage and sustainable jobs, leverage the flow of private capital, and encourage economic development. Regional collaboration is essential for economic growth because regions are the centers of competition in the global economy.

So I encourage those of you who work near an industry cluster to explore grant funds under this program. You can learn more by going to www.grants.gov.

Lastly, my Office of Faith Based Community Partnerships launched a new "Job Clubs Project" last month. Job clubs play a critical role in communities hit hard by the recession. For displaced workers, Job Clubs not only provide advice and guidance on employment opportunities, they create a community of support, understanding and empowerment. They represent an age-old American tradition of lending a "helping-hand." And they allow neighbors to take ownership of their situation and to so something about it — together

One of the biggest problems job clubs face is association — they're not connected to one another. Through the job clubs project, we plan to help build a database that will help to better connect job clubs not only to each other, but to their local one-stops and to the many services we offer at the Department of Labor. So, I can assure you, we're doing everything within our power to support you and your communities.

But the Labor Department is one player on an incredible team — a team I'm so very proud to be a part of. I believe in this President. And I know that today, you're going to hear from other key members of this administration who are all moving forward with this community of people firmly in mind. But as we move forward, know again that we continue to need your support, your outreach, and your collaboration. We are all being forced to do more with less.

That means we have to work together... we can't be successful any other way.

People trust you. Entire communities rely on your work and on your decisions. And we want to help you. So please know that I — and all of my staff at the Department of Labor — are here as a resource and that our door is always open.

Thank you for having me here. Have a wonderful conference.