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Statement of Alexis M. Herman
Secretary of Labor

Remarks by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman
Department of Labor Fiscal Year 2001 Budget
February 7, 2000

Good afternoon. Thank you for being here as we present the Department of Labor's budget for Fiscal Year 2001.

And a special welcome to everyone who is viewing on

I want to thank all the organizations and advocacy groups who are here today for all that you have done to support us in the past year. My thanks also to all the Department of Labor staff who worked on the budget and today's presentation, particularly our Director of Public Liaison, Lisa Ross.

President Clinton, in his State of the Union Message, spoke of the extraordinary state of our economy, including more than twenty million jobs created in the past seven years, the lowest level of unemployment in thirty years, an economy on track for the longest period of growth in our history, and many other indicators of our national progress and prosperity.

But the President also recognized that our prosperty is not universally shared, and called for a 21st Century revolution to reward work, strengthen families, and expand opportunities to all our citizens. The Department of Labor has an important role to play in meeting those goals.

The President's budget for 2001 allocates $39.8 billion to our department. The President's budget is one that maintains fiscal discipline even as it seeks to eliminate the national debt by 2013, to protect Social Security and Medicare, to offer working families a balanced tax cut, and to invest in our nation's future.

The Department of Labor's programs are part of those all-important investments in the future. Because our bottom line is not money, it is people, skills, jobs and opportunity. It is about ensuring that, as our nation moves forward, no one is left behind.

It is also about partnerships. The federal government cannot and should not be involved in every problem. We need to determine the appropriate role for government and enter into the appropriate partnerships with others who share our commitment to a better America.

Greatly helped by our partners, we recorded some important achievements last year, and I want to highlight a few of them.

First of all, I'm very pleased that President Clinton helped launch our Youth Opportunity Movement as part of his New Markets tour in July. YO is the most intensive effort to reach young people in our Department's history and it is no secret that it is a personal priority of mine.

We also take great pride in having elevated the importance of pay equity in our enforcement and public education efforts. During 1999, thanks to aggressive enforcement of the law, we recovered millions in back pay for thousands of women and members of minorities in historic pay actions.

We led the successful negotiation of a new convention on the worst forms of child labor that the International Labor Organization adopted by unanimous consensus this year. The full U.S. Senate then approved it in record time and it was signed by President Clinton.

At home, we attacked child labor with both strong enforcement and effective partnerships.

Finally, we provided leadership to the President's Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities. Our work contributed to the passage of bipartisan legislation that enables millions of Americans with disabilities to take jobs without losing their health care coverage.

We're proud of these achievements, and I want to thank all of you who are here today who have been our partners in making them happen. And that includes our wonderful DOL team, so many people who are dedicated to better lives for all Americans.

Since I have been at the Department, I have organized our work around three strategic goals and our 2001 budget is also organized around those goals. They are:

  • •A prepared workforce -- which means to make sure that all Americans have the schooling and skills needed for success in the workforce of the future.
  • •A secure workforce - providing workers with economic security both during their working years and their retirement; and
  • Quality workplaces that are safe, healthy, fair - and free from discrimination.

First, let me discuss a prepared workforce.

I have often said that we don't have a worker shortage - we have a skills shortage.

I will keep on saying it. We must ensure that every American has the skills, the education and the training to meet the challenges of the 21st century. To help achieve this goal of a prepared workforce, our Department proposes to invest $6.6 billion in FY 2001, an increase of about $900 million over last year. This will support programs to provide skills to young Americans, to work toward the goal of Universal Reemployment, and to reach out to untapped pools of workers, such as homeless veterans and Americans with disabilities, and bring them into the mainstream of our economy.

All these programs reflect basic American values like opportunity, self-reliance, hard work, and giving people a second chance. Let me highlight some of them.

We put a special focus on helping young people gain the skills they need to start up the career ladder. There are almost eleven million young people between 16 and 24 who are not in school and not prepared to compete in today's economy. Nearly four million of them dropped out of high school. In some areas, unemployment among young people reaches thirty percent or more, even in today's booming economy, and that is unacceptable.

We can't afford to lose even one of these young people - much less an entire generation. That's why we have launched our Youth Opportunity Movement to give young people skills, jobs and hope.

Let me tell you about one young man our youth opportunity movement has helped. On a visit to Baltimore's Career Academy last November, along with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, I met a remarkable twenty-year-old named Michael Dupree.

Michael grew up in a single-parent home. He always had potential but by the tenth grade he had lost direction and started hanging out with the wrong crowd, then he dropped out of school. He took a job loading crates in a warehouse, but lost it after he was injured in an automobile accident. By then, Michael had been out of school more than a year. He did some serious thinking and realized he wanted to do more with his life.

Fortunately, he applied to Baltimore's City Academy, an outstanding program for at-risk youngsters that we support as part of the youth opportunities movement.

That was just a year ago. Since then, Michael has met every challenge put before him. He passed the GED and obtained his high school diploma. He enrolled in the biotechnology program at Baltimore City Community College. He recently completed an internship at the University of Maryland and has just begun a job as a biotechnology lab assistant.

To top it off, Michael has been asked to serve on Baltimore City's Youth Council.

I'm very proud that Michael is with us today, along with the principal of the City Academy, Jacquelene Massey, who has helped him every inch of the way. Will you both please stand?

Let's give them a hand.

We're proud of the way Michael has turned around his life and we want to give others the same opportunity. That's why our new budget includes $375 million for Youth Opportunity grants, an increase of $125 million over the current year. Those funds will support grants to targeted communities of high unemployment - to both urban and rural communities, to serve boys and girls from every background.

In those communities we will build partnerships and focus services such as counseling, skills training, and job placement on young people. I call this a holistic approach - we focus on the whole individual and the whole community - and it can change many young lives, as it did Michael Dupree's.

When we think about the problems young people have today, we also think of the tragic outbreaks of school violence that have shocked the nation. We wonder what we can do to reduce violence and drug abuse, and help move young people in the right direction.

One of the Administration's responses to this challenge is the Safe Schools / Healthy Students Initiative, begun last year by the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services. Our new budget includes $40 million to enable us to join in supporting community-wide programs to prevent youth violence and drug abuse. We'll be expanding the initiative to include work programs for out-of-school youth.

As you know, we have shockingly high rates of incarceration in our nation now. Too many out-of-work young people get into trouble and wind up in jail, and that is a tragic waste. We need to provide positive alternatives and second chances.

That's why our budget includes $75 million for a new program to bring young offenders into the workplace by job training and placement, and by new partnerships between local courts and employers. When we get young people out of trouble and into jobs, we aren't just helping individuals, we're strengthening the future of our nation. We must be concerned that 500,000 people are leaving prison each year and entering the labor force. We have to do more than lock people in jail, we have to lock them into hope for the future.

Of course, The Job Corps, which President Johnson began in the 1960s, is still America's biggest and most successful residential job training program for at-risk youth. In 2001 we will continue to invest in the Job Corps and it will serve more than 73,000 young people at 122 centers in almost every state of the union.

For all our focus on young people, they are not and cannot be our only concern. Many other Americans need help gaining the skills demanded by today's economy. Sometimes the challenge is not first-time employment but reemployment for those who have lost jobs and need new skills. Sometimes we have to reach out to untapped pools of potential workers.

Let me tell you some ways we are reaching out.

President Clinton kept his promise to end welfare as we know it. Many of you here today helped us win passage of it The Welfare to Work initiative has helped hundreds of thousands of Americans move from dependency to self-sufficiency.

To build on that success, our budget includes $255 million forFathers Work / Families Win, a new two-part initiative that grows out of Welfare to Work and promotes both responsible fatherhood and supports working families.

We've all heard about deadbeat dads. Well, Fathers Work is about upbeat dads. It will provide jobs for noncustodial parents, and they are mostly fathers, who owe child support. Most of these fathers are young and unemployed. Most want to meet their obligations, and Fathers Work will help make that possible. But you can't pay child support if you don't have a job.

The other program, Families Win will help low-income parents who are struggling to make ends meet, by helping them find work and obtain better access to community services. Together, these two initiatives are an important, exciting new way to put America to work.

Two years ago, the President set an ambitious goal for our nation. We call it Universal Reemployment.

We're in the second year of a five-year initiative to meet the goal of providing assistance to every dislocated worker who loses a job through no fault of their own. We don't abandon these workers, we offer the skills and counseling they need to find another good job. That's why our budget includes $305 million for information, training, and One-Stop Career Centers that are all part of Universal Reemployment and are basic to our goal of a prepared workforce.

We are constantly reaching out to untapped pools of talent. Just a few months ago, the President signed the bipartisan Work Incentives Improvement Act, which makes it possible millions of people with disabilities to take jobs without losing their health care. The President signed that legislation, by the way, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, honoring a great President who put ability to work.

At a time when our economy is booming, the unemployment rate among working-age adults with severe disabilities is nearly 75 percent. That amounts to millions of Americans whose talents we cannot afford to waste.

That is why our budget includes funds to establish an Office of Disability Policy, Evaluation, and Technical Assistance. This new office, building on opportunities created by the legislation, will provide leadership in helping disabled Americans enter, reenter, and remain in the workforce.

And let me recognize Justin Dart, who is here today and has been such a great leader on issues for disabled Americans.

We are also reaching out to America's homeless veterans. Our budget includes funds to provide training and other services to fifteen thousand homeless veterans. We estimate that this will result in at least 8,700 of those veterans being placed in jobs.

Our second strategic goal is a secure workforce.

By that, I mean it is not enough simply to have a job.

A secure workforce embodies important values, such as dignity, family and community. A job should pay a decent wage, should provide reliable health care and should lead to a quality retirement. This year, we propose to invest $2.5 billion in programs to achieve a secure workforce, an increase of $133 million over the previous year.

You can't have security, or strong families and strong communities, if people work hard and still can't pay their bills. That is why the President has called on Congress to increase the minimum wage by one dollar over two years. To do so would provide more than ten million workers - almost seventy percent of them adults and sixty percent of them women - a raise of $2000 a year. That is enough for a family of four to pay its rent for four months or to buy groceries for seven months. To raise the minimum wage is simple economic justice.

I think you know that I am, like the President, firmly committed to passage of a strong, comprehensive and enforceable Patients Bill of Rights. We believe that medical decisions should be made by doctors, not by accountants, and we hope to see passage of the bill this year.

We want a secure workforce, but too many workers are insecure because they are afraid their jobs will be sent overseas by forces they cannot control. That is why we again propose legislation to expand the Trade Adjustment Assistance and NAFTA Adjustment Assistance programs. Our proposals would expand eligibility for benefits to workers who lose jobs when production shifts abroad, and would also increase training opportunities for those workers.

Pensions and health-care are another big part of workplace security, but a lot of people don't know that the Department of Labor is involved with them. In fact, as Secretary of Labor, I have the responsibility for protecting the job-based pension plans and health care benefits that employers have promised nearly 180 American million workers, retirees and their families.

Too many workers feel insecure about the integrity of their health care and pensions. That's why our new budget includes $108 million to give added protection to the health care and pensions of workers and their families.

Of course, other Americans don't have pension plans, and that's why we work to encourage them to start saving for their retirements. We've been focusing on getting information out to women and minorities in particular, with publications and conferences in every state. It's never too early to start saving and it's never too late.

Our third strategic goal is quality workplaces.

By quality workplaces, we mean those that reflect such basic values as health, safety and fair play. This year, our budget proposes $939 million to meet this goal, up $221 million over last year.

The fact of globalization means we must be concerned about the quality of workplaces overseas as well as at home. Globalization is creating new issues of fairness for workers and employers alike. That is why the President has challenged us to put a human face on the global economy.

We are committed to improving the working conditions of children both at home and abroad by opposing abusive child labor wherever it exists and by providing the necessary resources for its elimination.

Building on the recent International Labor Organization convention that was signed by 174 nations, the President proposes $100 million to support international efforts to eliminate child labor by programs that enable the young people to return to school.

Additionally, our budget also expands the efforts begun last year to achieve internationally-recognized core labor standards, and to build social safety nets, so American workers can compete on a level playing field with regard to trade. This should be a race to the top - not to the bottom.

In all these ways, we are working to make globalization empower workers and improve their lives, not cause a lowering of standards just when so much progress is possible.

When we consider quality in the international workplace, we must consider the terrible harm being done by HIV/AIDS. When I was in Africa last year, I saw that AIDS is not only a vast human tragedy but a major economic disaster. When workers die their skills and experience die with them. Production is down in many countries. This disease threatens peace and stability in Africa and all the development and progress we want to see there.

That is why our budget includes funds for a new Global HIV/AIDS Workplace Initiative that will use the workplace as a forum for providing health education programs to prevent the spread of AIDS. The workplace has a great, untapped potential for providing millions of workers with information that can literally save their lives. I am proud that we co-hosted a conference with the AFL-CIO recently at which African labor leaders met with American leaders to discuss ways to use the workplace as a source of education and training in AIDS prevention.

We cannot talk seriously of a quality workplace unless we also talk of equal pay for equal work.

When I became director of the Women's Bureau in 1977, women earned about 59 cents for every dollar a man earned. Today, we earn about 75 cents for each man's dollar. The gap is closing, but as long as we have a pay gap we also have a values gap.

This is not a women's issue. It is a kitchen-table issue, a family issue. When women aren't fairly paid, their whole family pays. We need to rid ourselves of this stubborn, lingering pay discrimination.

That is why the President has proposed a Pay Equity Initiative to expand opportunities for women and help end wage discrimination. His proposal includes contains $17 million for our department to support new actions on behalf of equal pay. Our new initiatives would include training women in nontraditional occupations, with a special focus on high-tech industries, and helping employers improve their pay policies.

Equal pay is a basic issue of fairness and justice in our society, and we are not going to rest until we have bridged the pay gap.

Finally, safety and health are absolutely basic to a quality workplace.

We're proud that for the sixth consecutive year, workplace injury rates have come down, to the lowest level since we began keeping records in the 1970s, but we can still do better. Even one workplace death or injury is too many.

Our budget includes $668 million to promote health and safety for more than one hundred million workers through programs of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Through a combination of targeted enforcement, compliance assistance and regulatory approaches, these agencies work hard to protect workers from illness, injury and needless death.

Let me say finally that I remain committed to completing the new ergonomics standard this year. Repetitive motion is still the biggest cause of injury in the workplace, as many as 650,000 injuries a year. The proposed standard can protect twenty-seven million workers from crippling disability and we need to complete it this year.

These are some of the ways we will work in FY 2001 to achieve our department's strategic goals.

These are important, exciting, initiatives, because they are not just numbers or words on paper.

One of the joys of this job is that I get to meet people like Michael Dupree. Real people, with real talents to develop and real challenges to overcome.

I'm proud to be part of an Administration that fights hard to give them and millions of other Americans the opportunity to make the most of their God-given talents and to provide better lives for themselves and their families.

President Clinton, in his State of the Union message, said our nation has never been stronger than it is today.

"Never before have we had such a blessed opportunity - and, therefore, such a profound obligation - to build the more perfect union of our founders' dreams," the President said.

We at the Department of Labor have an important role to play in building that more perfect union.
And with the help of all of you, we intend to do our part.

Thank you for being here. Now I invite your questions.

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