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

Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
White House Conference on Expanding Opportunity through Volunteering
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thank you, Jonathan, for that introduction, and thanks to Alan Krueger for bringing us together today during National Volunteer Week. I also want to congratulate all of today's honorees, as well as Wendy Spencer on her appointment as CEO for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Good luck in your new post.

Around the world, the United States is a country celebrated for many wonderful things: Our great schools, our incredible diversity, our opportunities for self-improvement and our many hard-won freedoms. But there's no more American virtue than our shared desire to give back to the country that has given us so much. To me, that's the essence of being an American — taking time out of our day to make someone else's a little brighter.

In my travels across the country as Labor Secretary, I've seen our better angels take flight time and time again: helping out a military family, or serving meals at a soup kitchen, or donating a day to Red Cross relief efforts. These simple acts of caring are American virtues, and they always inspire me.

If you ask most Americans why they volunteer, they'll probably say — quite simply — because it's the right thing to do and a way to stay connected to their faith and their humanity. I know most people who selflessly give don't spend a lot of time thinking: "What's in it for me?"

But as the Secretary of Labor, it's my job to help people find work. I believe that a healthy commitment to volunteerism can help put Americans back to work — especially for our long-term unemployed.

If you support a community-based organization by tutoring young people, r if you help a low-income family apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit, then you're sharpening important workplace skills. If you work on a Habitat for Humanity project, you're getting hands-on experience in the trades. If you volunteer at a Boys or Girls Club, you're building the kind of soft skills that many employers want to see.

As more companies stress the importance of good corporate citizenship, they're encouraging their employees to volunteer. And if they see this commitment already exists in an applicant, it can make them a more attractive candidate. Why? Because it's good for business. Americans want to spend their money at establishments with a social pulse.

Volunteerism can be a way to help unemployed workers expand their network of contacts, improve their résumés and make a positive impression in a competitive job market. So at the Department of Labor, we're promoting volunteerism as one more strategy to help our long-term unemployed.

Let me be clear: Volunteering is not a substitute for paid employment. And in a complex 21st century economy that demands new skills of American workers, volunteerism is not a substitute for job training. But it can be an important complement. And it can be a way to give a leg up to job-seekers who've decided that enrolling in a training program is not the right choice for them at this time.

Today, my department issued formal guidance to the states on this subject. We said volunteerism can co-exist with work search requirements under the Unemployment Insurance program. The truth is, volunteering may actually expose job seekers to new job opportunities. We reminded the states they have flexibility in establishing work search requirements. And we reminded the states of the important protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which still apply. Misclassifying workers as unpaid "volunteers" will not be tolerated.

But as we explore every avenue to help our workforce recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Volunteerism is a way job-seekers can do good and become more marketable. The first priority for every displaced worker is to return to gainful employment. Actively searching for work is critical. However, too many workers report that they've exhausted their connections even while they continue to send out resumes without getting interviews.

Volunteering for a non-profit can add a new dimension to a job seekers' application. It can demonstrate leadership and good citizenship. And it can help put people back to work.

So my message today to Americans who have fallen on hard times is simple: Be your brother and sister's keeper. Do it because it feels right, because it is right and because the life you turn around may be your own.

Thank you all for being here. Muchisimas gracias