News Column

Sec. of Labor Hilda Solis Talks Jobs, Issues Affecting Hispanics

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United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis recently spoke with HispanicBusiness and discussed some of the most critical issues facing Hispanics. She touched upon female wages, student loans and even discussed how the Department of Labor utilizes social media. She also shared useful tools for job searchers.

Solis is the 25th Secretary of Labor, a role she assumed in February 2009, and the first Hispanic woman to serve in the U.S. Cabinet. She was nominated by President Obama. Read on to find out what the Department of Labor is doing to help the economy.

HispanicBusiness: What gets you excited to go to work in the morning?

Solis: I go to sleep every night-—and wake up every morning-—thinking about what my department can do to help speed our recovery and put more Americans back to work. I travel a lot in my position and I hear the stories of struggle and sacrifices. I know families are still hurting. Many have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and my staff and I are working our hearts out to get them the skills training, job search assistance and benefits they need and deserve.

Yet even though we are recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, I also feel a sense of optimism when I meet with workers. They are so determined, and they never give up.

One of the most important resources out there is our American Job Center Network, and we're working hard to get the word out. We have nearly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers that can provide the help that displaced workers need to prepare for the next step in their career. They can be accessed at physical locations in communities across the country or online at careeronestop.org.

But perhaps the most rewarding part of my job is working to give young people a sense of hope and confidence that they can achieve their dreams. My department runs wonderful programs like Jobs Corps and Youth Build that can give them the credentials employers are looking for. We have resources for everyone, and I've placed a special emphasis on reaching out to the Latino community. We're the fastest growing group of Americans, and our advancement is so important to this country's larger economic recovery.

HispanicBusiness: What's an average day like for you?

Solis: No two days are alike for me. On a given day, I might sign off on a grant award to help families in a community impacted by a plant closing or natural disaster. Then I might meet with my staff members about implementing a regulation to ensure that domestic care workers who look after our aging parents are making the minimum wage and overtime pay to which they'e entitled. I might then go speak to a labor union about partnering with their local factory on a registered apprenticeship program to help give their members new skills that employers are desperately seeking.

Other days I may go to Capitol Hill to testify about why extending unemployment benefits is so critical, or why cutting our job training budget would have a disastrous impact on our economy. In the summer months, I visit agricultural fields and other workplaces to make sure workers have the facts about how to stay safe in the summer heat; my department oversees a campaign to prevent heat illness. I might end the day at a cabinet meeting to talk about our efforts to preserve the integrity of our unemployment insurance system and reduce the number of improper payments. There are never enough hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done.

HispanicBusiness: In what ways are you reaching out to community groups and employer associations? How has this particular effort going?

Solis: There are more than 20 agencies within the U.S. Labor Department—from the Office of Disability Employment Policy to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to the Wage & Hour Division. Each of these agencies works closely with chambers of commerce, unions, employer groups, state workforce boards, and local leaders to achieve a synergy of efforts to spur economic growth and assist the American worker.

We hold job fairs, workshops, conference calls, stakeholder meetings. We take our message on the Internet and appeal directly to different constituency groups.

Most recently, the Labor Department has teamed up with employers to create summer jobs for youth. Since January of this year, more than 120 Summer Jobs+ partners have committed nearly 300,000 jobs and other opportunities for young people through this initiative. We have hosted web chats and news conferences with mayors of major cities to get the word out about our summer job bank. And my Employment and Training Administration worked with the National Association of Workforce Boards to promote more than 30 job fairs across the country on May 10.

HispanicBusiness: How does your office utilize social media?

Solis: During my tenure, the Department of Labor has used social media to battle the long-standing stigma that government doesn't do customer service well. I am actively Tweeting, posting on Facebook and engaged in communication with people around the country through web chats and blogs. I utilize social media to make announcements, to communicate important issues, or to share information about upcoming events. I use YouTube to send my messages about new initiatives. We also post photos on our Flickr page, where everyone can see what we're doing at the department.

My department has assembled the largest collection of job searching, job placement and job training tools anywhere in the United States, but our resources are only as good as the ways we deliver them to the American people.

By 2013, it's projected that 62 percent of all web users in this country—and nearly half of the American public—will be using Facebook. It began as a vehicle to connect people with people. But my department has worked with Facebook to connect people with jobs. It represents the Obama administration's strong commitment to customer service on the most important issue of our time: helping people find work. We have launched a new social jobs partnership to connect 132 million Americans to our job placement resources.

We have a website called MySkillsMyFuture.org that helps dislocated workers and people looking to change careers. It helps them find new occupations where their existing skills will translate into employability. It can help part-time workers find full-time jobs and lower-paid workers find higher-paying jobs. Users can enter their current or most recent job, and it will tell you about other career paths that use similar skills. It will tell you how much those jobs pay, what additional skills you need to acquire and the local institutions that can train you. For each career field, the site gives you a side-by-side chart listing salary information, educational requirements and employers in your area that are hiring now.

We also have another website called MyNextMove.org that helps new entrants into the workforce figure out the job that's right for them. And it's especially helpful for young people, for those with limited English proficiency and for those without any post-secondary education. It asks users to fill out a questionnaire listing your interests and abilities. Then it suggests different employment paths that might make sense for you. It tells users about local apprenticeship programs and certificate programs, so they can get training to fill jobs in high-growth industries.

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.

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