HispanicBusiness: What, in your opinion, are the most critical issues facing Hispanics that the Department of Labor is having to tackle?
Solis: The unemployment rate among the Latino community has been a critical issue. We know many Latinos lost jobs that are not coming back. We have worked hard to retrain Latinos for a new field of work. And my department has provided unemployment funding for those that lost their job through no fault of their own.
In the last 17 months, the unemployment rate for our community has dropped nearly three percentage points to 10.3 percent. If you look at the last two American recessions dating back to 1991, this is the fastest rebound the Latino community has seen. Since February 2010, more than four out of 10 new U.S. jobs have gone to Latinos. And these aren't just any jobs. We are returning to work in high-paying industries—like manufacturing and business—at twice the rate that we are finding jobs in low-wage sectors.
The recession was extra hard on Latinos. As the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, our progress in this recovery is critical to the nation as a whole.
Fortunately, more Latinos understand that an education is absolutely critical to realize the American Dream. One of the most important fights in Washington right now is whether Congress will approve President Obama's plan to bring down college costs.
More than 7 million students with federal student loans will see their interest rates double on July 1 unless Congress acts. This will cost the average student an additional $1,000 in debt. Unfortunately, some lawmakers would rather protect tax breaks for millionaires than invest in our young people. This is unacceptable. If Latinos are going to get ahead, we must be able to afford an education.
HispanicBusiness: What, in your opinion, are the most critical issues facing females that the Department of Labor is having to tackle?
Today in America, women are paid on average 80 cents for every dollar paid to men. For Latinas, it's 60 cents on the dollar. This means that each time the average woman starts a new job, she starts from a lower base salary. Over time, that pay gap becomes wider and wider.
If you look at what a woman loses in earnings from the start of her career to the end, you see she stands to lose $380,000 over her lifetime. For the average working woman, the 20-cent pay gap means $150 less in her weekly paycheck. It means nearly $8,000 less at the end of the year. The problem doesn't just affect women. It affects families, too. It's 20 percent less food many mothers can put on the table. It's 20 percent less that they can spend on their kids' education. It's 20 percent less to pay the gas bill. The bottom line: When women start at a disadvantage, they stay at a disadvantage. And we all lose.
The Women's Bureau within the Department is working on educating women about the pay gap. We recently announced the winners of the Equal Pay App Challenge. You can view the winning apps on the department's website–-dol.gov.
HispanicBusiness: Can you tell us about some hopeful developments with U.S. labor force (please feel free to elaborate with any facts, figures or statistics)?
Our nation's labor market added 130,000 private sector jobs in April, while the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent, its lowest level in three years. For 26 straight months, we have added private-sector jobs. The national unemployment rate has fallen a full point in the last eight months. Layoffs are continuing to come down and are now back to 2006 levels.
In April, our largest gains—62,000 new jobs—were in good-paying business and professional services careers, meaning more architects, engineers, computer programmers and consultants are finding jobs. Also, we added another 19,000 manufacturing jobs in April. After losing millions of good manufacturing jobs in the years before and during the deep recession, the economy has added 485,000 manufacturing jobs in the past 26 months.
We're on the right path, and we know our recovery would be even stronger if Congress hadn't blocked almost every single proposed investment in the American Jobs Act. The President believes we should be doing more to help state and local governments hire back teachers, policemen, firefighters and construction crews. And he believes we should be doing more to cut taxes on small business that are the engine of economic growth.
Going forward, we have a choice to make. We can either make investments in things like education, transportation, and new sources of energy—investments that have always been essential to America's businesses and to creating good middle class jobs. Or we can cut taxes even more for wealthy Americans who don't need them and didn't ask for them.
Prosperity has never just trickled down from a wealthy few. Prosperity has always grown from the heart of a strong middle class. That's why the President laid out a blueprint for an economy that's built to last built on investments that put America in control of its energy future, improve education and skills for our workers, and support small business and American manufacturing, so we can make more things the world buys.