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A Labor Day Conversation With Hilda Solis

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On Labor Day 2012 the country is still recovering from the worst recession of modern times. Unemployment is stuck above 8 percent, and many of the jobs that have come back are lower level than the ones lost.

But Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, the first Latina to hold that post, is optimistic. She says progress has definitely been made -- jobs are picking up, and programs to get more training for the jobless and shore up business are definitely working. According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, women's jobs are now recovering at a faster pace, but there's still more to be done. Since women are being courted hard by both parties in the upcoming elections, I thought it was a good time to talk with Solis about women's employment. Here's an excerpt from my radio show Equal Time with Martha Burk.

What's the good news for Labor Day this year?

The good news is that we are on the right path. Just three and a half years ago, when President Obama came into office and immediately after we had lost over 8 million jobs. The president went right to work to get the stimulus act so we could extend unemployment insurance, green jobs, employment for youth, training for women in non-traditional fields, and much more. In 29 months we've added 4.5 million private sector jobs. We still have more to do. And we can do it.

Early on we called the recession a 'mancession' because construction took such a big hit. Then women lost jobs as public sector unions were attacked. Now women's jobs are picking up. Will that trend continue?

I certainly hope so. The best advice I can give women at all levels is increase training. There are still areas where we have to break through that glass ceiling. We need women to go through apprentice programs. I've seen women who did, and who are now highly trained electricians and welders. These are jobs that women are capable of doing.

What are some of your priorities?

I want to get more women involved at every level. 2012-06-12-yourvoicesmallest2.JPG I want [unions] to pay attention to women and minorities. I want companies who get federal contracts to hire more women and minorities from the local area.

We still have a pay gap between women and men. When you were in Congress you co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a decision by the Supreme Court that made it harder for women to sue for employment discrimination. Where should we be going next?

There's lot more to do. We need more enforcement tools and we don't have that. We need congress to work with us. We need a congress that reflects those ideals [of closing the pay gap], and right now unfortunately we're not there.

We've just come off the Republican Convention, and while the platform gives a bare nod to single mothers, it's very strong that married couples are the standard. There are millions of single women and men trying to raise kids.

And there are people of the same gender as well. And we've tried to put forward regulations that give them the ability to take time off to take care of loved ones and not lose their jobs. And we've been able to do it because the president has said these are things that have to be corrected.

What else can be done?

We need a more extensive family and medical leave act. Our Congress needs to be more conducive and supportive of those kinds of policies.

Everybody agrees unemployment is too high. But Congress is deadlocked. Republicans say the stimulus didn't work, and we need to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. Democrats say we need to put people back to work, and the way to do that is a stimulus.

I've seen what we were able to do with the first recovery act. We kept people from losing jobs, and we kept the unemployment rate down by almost one whole percent because millions of people didn't lose their jobs. And that's hard to explain because you can't see it.

We also kept people in the safety net through extending unemployment payments. That also acts as a stimulus, because that check gets spent right away.

Women are half the workers and the majority of voters. What should they be thinking about when they go to the polls?

We know this president cares about women, their children and their livelihood. We know we have someone on our side and fighting for women. We need to continue that movement and plow ahead.

Listen to the full interview here: