Si se Puede

It is an honor and privilege to serve as the nation’s Secretary of Labor. In that role, I am committed to helping American workers prepare for permanent, gainful employment in the 21st century economy, while making the mantra of “Good Jobs for Everyone” a reality. There are clear challenges to meeting these goals. The unemployment rate stands at 10.2 %, and for Latinos it is at 13.1%. For our young people, the rate is even higher, over 27%. And, of course, behind each of these numbers are real people and real families---each suffering consequences that statistics simply can’t convey. That is why it is so important that we have an active U.S. Department of Labor, advocating for the needs of working people.

The work calls for addressing immediate needs, and charting a thoughtful course for long-term prosperity. I am pleased to say we have a very good start. In fact, within a few weeks of taking office, President Obama signed the historic American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law. The Recovery Act allowed us to move immediately to protect and support workers who lost their jobs, while providing new worker training opportunities for those looking to upgrade their skills.

We have extended COBRA coverage and reduced premiums, increased unemployment checks by $25 per week, and offered states an incentive to extend unemployment insurance benefits to more of our workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. To date, 31 states and the District of Columbia have received at least a portion of their share of $7 billion in Recovery Funds available for the Unemployment Insurance Modernization program. As part of that effort, the Department of Labor has also awarded $164 million to make technology upgrades that will improve the operation and security of unemployment insurance systems. These grants will help ensure that claims and benefits are processed and paid in a timely, consistent and secure manner. Frankly, we are revolutionizing the unemployment insurance system

While assistance for workers during challenging times is an immediate need, we are also focused on continued investments in their future. Over the next few months we will be releasing about $720 million for grants to train workers for jobs in the clean energy economy, allied health, information technology, advanced manufacturing and other high-growth sectors.

Our investments have also supported summer jobs for youth, provided worker training programs to unemployed workers and made green job training possible for those looking to get into this exciting new field. As you know, clean energy jobs are good jobs. These jobs use or manufacture renewable energy resources, reduce pollution, and conserve energy and natural resources. Jobs like building wind turbines or a new power grid, manufacturing solar panels and lithium batteries, and weatherizing homes and office buildings, are just a few examples. They pay 10-20% more than other jobs. These jobs can reduce your electric and heating bills, leaving you more disposable income for other needs. I am committed to ensuring that underrepresented communities---Latinos, African-Americans, women, and our young people---have a seat at the table when we are discussing these issues.

Latinos must have access to training so they can take advantage of job opportunities in a clean energy economy and other high growth industries. Too many of our young people are simply not encouraged to pursue careers in math, science and engineering. Less that 10% of all Latino college students study for degrees in math or the sciences. While Latinas enroll in college in greater numbers than Latinos, Latino men greater outnumber women in engineering programs.

And Latinas lag behind males in degrees earned in all science, technology, engineering and math fields---except biology sciences. The lack of role models in these fields for Latino students and the high drop out rates keep our youth from pursuing career in these fields.

In 2008, more than 3.6 million people worked in engineering, computer and math jobs. But, Latinos represented only about 5% of those jobs, even though we are about 14% of the labor force. It is estimated that by 2050, Hispanics will constitute 25% of the total U.S. population! With the country’s growing Latino population, we have the opportunity to make a difference. We need to make sure our young men and women have opportunities and access to these good paying jobs. We need to invest in education and encourage our jovenes to pursue more technical careers---like math and science.

President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that Latinos not only participate in the technology boom, but that they help to pave the path in this global economy. Our ultimate goal is to provide good jobs for everyone. That means jobs that can support a family; jobs that are safe and secure; jobs that are sustainable and innovative; jobs that export products---not paychecks; and jobs that rebuild a strong middle class. And, of course, part of ensuring that our workers thrive and are on a long-term path to sustainability is reforming our health insurance system.

Today, families and business are struggling with a health care system that works better for the insurance industry than for the American people. While all working families shoulder this burden, Latinos carry a particularly heavy load. One in three Latinos is uninsured, making us the least likely demographic group to have insurance and the most likely to end up in expensive emergency care. Yet we tend to have higher rates of diseases like diabetes and asthma. In short, the current system is not working, and it is hurting both our community and the economy.

It is true. We are facing enormous challenges. But we knew that change was never going to be easy, and our country has defied many great obstacles before. Standing together, the Latino community can be a vital voice in the change that is taking place in this country. We need your enthusiasm, energy, passion and creativity. We need determined Latinos and Latinas to break the barriers that confront our community everyday. With your help, we will build a stronger, more prosperous, and more equitable nation for all Americans. ¡Muchas gracias por su trabajo y si se puede!

Hilda Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.