This morning, for the first time, I had the opportunity to testify on Capitol Hill before the House Education and Workforce Committee about the important work we do at the Labor Department.
As I explained to the committee, just about everything we do at the department supports President Obama’s agenda of creating opportunity for all. We help people get the skills they need to succeed in the jobs of today and tomorrow. We help ensure that our workplaces are safe and free from discrimination. We make sure hard work is rewarded with a fair wage. And we give people the chance to retire with dignity.
Our 2,500-plus American Job Centers, for example, help out-of-work Americans access all the services they need – resume assistance, job leads, career counseling, training opportunities and more. At the height of the recession, the AJCs were the nation’s emergency room for job-seekers, administering the critical care necessary to get people back on their feet.
Business leaders like Andra Rush of Detroit Manufacturing Systems use the AJCs to find the skilled workers they need. I like to think of ours as a “Match.com” role, finding exactly the right fit between job seekers and employers. Since the recession began, we have served, on average, more than 14 million people each year, including more than a million veterans, through our job training and employment services.
But we want to do even better. That’s why we’re working closely with Vice President Biden on a review of the federal government’s training programs. We’re going to identify what works and take it to scale, while figuring out what doesn’t work and fixing it.
But as I testified this morning, there’s a whole lot more to our work at the department.
If opportunity means nothing else, it must mean the right to return home safe and sound after a hard day’s work. No person should have to sacrifice their life for their livelihood. So, as I explained to the committee, the number of workers killed on the job has been cut from 14,000 in 1970 (the year OSHA was created) to an all-time low of 4,400 last year, in a workforce that’s twice the size. Employer after employer tells me it’s a false choice to suggest we can have job growth or job safety – they believe we can and must have both.
Rewarding hard work with a fair wage is also central to our mission and to the president’s opportunity agenda. Too many Americans, despite working full time, are still living in poverty. That’s why the president has pushed so strongly for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The workers I speak to need this raise; and the businesses I’ve heard from recognize that it’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
The basic bargain of America is that everyone has the chance to succeed. No matter where you started out the race, you can finish it ahead of the pack. No matter the circumstances of your birth or the ZIP code you live in, you can live out your highest and best dreams.
Fulfilling that bargain is what the Labor Department is committed to every day. I hope that we can work with Congress this year and beyond to expand opportunity for all.
Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec.