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November 4, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities
13th Annual Capitol Forum on Hispanic Higher Education
Washington, D.C.
Monday, April 14, 2008

Thank you, Tomás [Morales, President, College of Staten Island, The City University of New York.] It's a pleasure to be here this afternoon.

This afternoon I'd like to share with you some of the initiatives the Labor Department has created to help traditionally underserved communities, including Hispanic Americans, access opportunities in today's economy. Whether the issue is job training, job seeking or worker safety, the Department supports programs to ensure that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for Hispanic Americans so they can advance within mainstream America.

Today, diversity is more important than ever before because our country is part of a worldwide economy. Our country's diversity is a competitive advantage that should be encouraged and cherished.

Like any other nation, our country does face challenges. And one of them is the skills gap. That's the mismatch between the skills of some in our workforce and the skills needed for jobs in growing sectors of the economy. And your organization can make a significant contribution in helping our country close the skills gap and thrive in the 21st century.

In the next decade, nearly two-thirds of the estimated 15.6 million net new jobs created in the U.S. will be in occupations that require at least some post-secondary education or considerable on-the-job training. Our country, for example, will need to fill job openings for nearly 3 million healthcare professionals. We will need over 950,000 engineers, including aerospace, biomedical, civil, computer software, and environmental engineers. We will also need workers in other high growth industries including nanotechnology, geospatial technology, and the life sciences, to name a few.

By definition, these jobs pay above average wages because employers are paying a premium for workers with skills that are in demand. But workers need postsecondary education to access these opportunities.

Let me share with you a few examples of how education impacts wages:

Today, high school dropouts average about $524 per week for full-time work and their unemployment rate is about 8.2 percent.

Workers with a high school diploma average $752 weekly and have a 5.1 percent unemployment rate.

And workers with some college or an associate degree average about $902 per week and their unemployment rate is 3.8 percent.

But workers with a bachelor's degree or higher average $1,396 per week and have an unemployment rate of 2.1 percent.

So post-secondary education really pays off! And this organization is right on target in helping to spread the message that it is important to stay in school.

The Department has also created many initiatives to help traditionally underserved communities, including Hispanic Americans, access the new opportunities being created in our economy. One of those is the Hispanic Worker Initiative. This key training program helps American workers gain the skills required to access opportunity in rapidly growing sectors of the economy.

In addition to worker training, another key mission of the Labor Department is to ensure that workers are safe on the job and fully and fairly compensated.

Since 2001, OSHA's balanced approach, which includes strong enforcement, standards and guidance, training and education, outreach, and compliance assistance has contributed to the lowest occupational injury and fatality rates in our nation's history. The overall injury rate has fallen by 17 percent since 2002. Meanwhile, the overall fatality rate has fallen by nine percent and has declined by 22 percent among the growing Hispanic workforce since 2001.

This Administration has also made a special effort to target enforcement of our nation's wage and hour laws on industries that employ large numbers of vulnerable workers, many of whom are immigrants. As a result, the Department has recovered record back wages for workers in low-wage industries, many of whom are Hispanic. In 2007, the Department recovered over $220 million for employees who did not receive the wages they were due. This represents a 67 percent increase since 2001.

As some of you may know, our nation's labor laws can be very complex. So the Department has reached out to previously underserved communities to help them understand these laws and their rights and responsibilities under them. Labor law materials have been translated into multiple languages, including Spanish. And in 2004, the Department sponsored the first-ever Hispanic Health and Safety Summit.

The Department remains active in Gulf Coast recovery efforts. We are working with media, churches and community-based organizations to help vulnerable workers, especially Hispanic immigrants who are making such an important contribution to the clean up and rebuilding efforts. One of the organizations in the forefront of these collaborative efforts is the League of United Latin American Citizens, LULAC. LULAC, and other groups, work with the Department to reach out to communities in the Gulf Coast to ensure that workers are fully and fairly compensated. As you may know, the Department of Labor enforces a broad range of worker protection laws, and we do so regardless of an individual's legal status.

The Department has bilingual Benefits Advisors all over the country who directly assist workers with retirement issues. One of the responsibilities of these bilingual Benefits Advisors is to assist the Department's Women's Bureau in hosting "Women and Money" conferences for the Hispanic community.

Let me also share with you news of opportunities for Hispanic Americans — and other traditionally underrepresented groups — to advance within mainstream America.

In the next 10 years, 60 percent of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement. This upcoming wave of retirements presents a tremendous opportunity for those who are interested in serving their country. There are more than 20,000 job opportunities listed on the federal employment Web site: We hope you will visit this website and help us spread the word in your community about these great opportunities available in the federal government.

Hispanic Americans have so much to be proud of. For centuries you have been making America stronger, and enriching our country with your culture, traditions and hard work. We are fortunate to live in a country where there are so many opportunities. And as each of you begins your career, I hope you will make time to give something back to your community. Today, there are more ways than ever before to help make a difference for others. In 2007, nearly 61 million Americans were volunteers, helping to improve their communities.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope you will love what you are doing. Because if you are passionate about what you do, there will be no limit to what you can achieve.

And please remember that education never ends. Life-long learning is so important. It is the key to unlocking the American Dream. So thank you for everything you are doing to share this important message and for the tremendous contributions you have made to our country. Working together, we can continue to ensure that traditionally underserved communities have access to opportunity. And we can continue to strengthen the diversity that makes our country strong.

Thank you.

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