U.S. labor chief's push.

Bold steps required to create more jobs

Posted: September 04, 2011

Hilda L. Solis

is the U.S. secretary of labor

As the nation's Labor secretary, I wear several hats, including:

Top cop on the workplace beat - ensuring that jobs are safe, that workers are paid what they earned, and that pensions are protected.

Trainer-in-chief - providing veterans, people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, those with disabilities, and at-risk youths with training and education opportunities to succeed in new industries and in-demand careers.

America's job counselor - doing everything from making sure that workers have the support services they need when times are tough to championing work/family balance and flexibility.

And every month, I release the nation's Employment Situation Report, more commonly referred to as "the job numbers" or the unemployment rate.

The nation's unemployment rate is hovering around 9 percent. While unemployment in Pennsylvania decreased to 7.8 percent in July from 8.6 percent a year earlier, numbers like this mean that thousands across the Keystone State are still struggling to find work this Labor Day. And the Garden State faces an even steeper climb, with the unemployment rate at 9.5 percent. The Philadelphia metropolitan area's unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in June. I find that unacceptable. So does President Obama.

I am acutely aware that our unemployment rate does not include every American who is out of work. The data give a good indication of how many people without jobs are looking for work, but do not include many others, such as those working part time and in need of full-time work and those who have given up on the job market altogether. Of about 14 million people unemployed in this country, 44 percent have been out of work for more than six months.

To me, the unemployment rate is more than just a statistic. Behind this number are real people who do something very courageous every day. They ask someone for a job, and most of the time they are told no. They persevere in the face of continuous rejection. For them, work is certainly a source of income and the way they provide for themselves and their families. But it's also a source of dignity, and they are fighting hard to get back to work.

All that is on my mind this Labor Day and whenever I am looking at unemployment numbers. And while overemphasizing the positives is small consolation to those looking for work, some bright spots demonstrate the foundation of our recovery.

As of July, we had added nearly 2.4 million jobs during the previous 17 months. That was a marked improvement over 21/2 years ago, when we were - to be frank - bleeding jobs.

Digging deeper, we see that the health-care industry continues to be a strong area of opportunity for job seekers, consistently adding jobs during the last several years.

Across all industries, Pennsylvania added 70,500 jobs between July last year and this year, and New Jersey added 15,000. Both states showed strong growth in industries such as trade, transportation, and utilities, adding over the year 13,300 jobs and 13,800 respectively - with 4,100 in the Philadelphia area alone.

Manufacturing has added more than 289,000 jobs since December 2009 - thanks in part to investments by this administration - and is expected to grow 6.2 percent this year. Pennsylvania is part of this trend, adding 9,600 jobs over the year, but New Jersey struggled, shedding about 7,000 manufacturing jobs during the same period.

Clearly, the news is not good across the board - some groups have suffered more than others. Those already more disadvantaged, including minorities and youths, have been particularly hard-hit. But also, some groups who have traditionally been better placed in the job market, such as older workers, are having a much harder time finding jobs. This is why we must create opportunities for businesses to ramp up more permanent hiring and help those hardest-hit find their way toward those new jobs.

To keep moving in the right direction, bold steps are needed, including long-term, systemic solutions such as investments in our nation's infrastructure.

We need to build or repair aging roads, bridges, dams, and schools.

Private companies - particularly those posting record profit - need to start hiring again.

Training and apprenticeship programs are crucial for getting people back to work, so employers need to tap into state and federal efforts that offer the right talent at the right time.

Washington has a major role, including extending the payroll tax cut and ensuring that the unemployment-insurance system remains a vital safety net as workers learn new skills and seek new opportunities.

We need to create more jobs to provide opportunities for all Americans, and we all need to help make sure that those hit hardest by this recession are given the chance to show just how much they have to offer employers and our economy.

This is going to take serious people doing serious work. Improving America's job numbers is job No. 1.

Contact Hilda L. Solis

at TalktoSolis@dol.gov.


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