February 26, 1999
By Daniel L. Muñoz
La Prensa San Diego Staff
Secretary of Labor, Alexis M. Herman, in a special conference call to La Prensa San Diego dialogued and answered our questions on unemployment, poverty, border labor issues and racial discrimination in the work place of concern to the Hispanic community. In her prepared remarks, Secretary Herman stated:
"The unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 percent in January 1999. This is the lowest since 1973, when we started tracking the figures. The unemployment rate in 1993 was 11.3% for Hispanics. The unemployment rate for the entire nation is 4.3%. For the White population it was 3.6%. As the unemployment rate decrease the medium income increased. The income for Hispanic household increased to $2,553 in the past 2 years. That represents an 11% increase. This improvement reflects that the improvement in this nation's prosperity over the past 6 years has now turned into a prosperity that is widely shared. Translates into stronger families, stronger community and stable communities. The President's policies are working and are making an impact on America's real working people," she said.
The San Diego region is home to 642,772 Mexican- American-Latinos (24% of the total population) with the booming economy it would be expected that all of the San Diego laboring force would benefit from it. The question is if this is so, why do the cities with large Hispanic populations suffer such a disproportionate poverty rate?
"The minimum wage has improved the earnings of Hispanics and made work more attractive. More people came into the workforce because we made work `pay.' The increase in the `Earned Income Tax Credit' has enabled the average family with two kids to receive a tax cut of about $1,000. This has impacted directly on more than 1.2 million Hispanics, moving them out of poverty throughout the country. The enormous differences are the real poverty investment the President is making in job training and education. The Clinton administration is making training and education more available to individuals of Hispanic origin. Additionally we are consolidating Job Training dollars at the state level where they then pass them on to the local communities to pass on to their Local Work Force Development Board. The President is asking for 200 million dollars to be the first down payment over the next five years to strengthen our overall training system. These funds will go to those communities that have had disproportionate higher rates of unemployment. Our border communities, where Hispanics have a higher unemployment, are the ones that I have taken a particular interest in. We are going to make sure we put resources in those communities," stated Herman.
(L/P) - Secretary Herman, your statements on improving employment opportunities does not exactly translate into placing more money in the pockets of the working poor of San Diego. In our city the business corporate community maintains wages artificially low due in part to the number of workers that come to San Diego from Mexico and Latin America seeking work. They will work for what ever they can get. There have been numerous complaints filed but the government has failed to address them. In general these individuals are working for very low wages and under working conditions that are in conflict with the laws of this country. San Diego's work system, pay schedules, and treatment of its workers are akin to the Maquiladora work system created by NAFTA in Mexico and Latin America. In as much they duplicate the near slavery conditions that exist in those countries, it is a fair description to name those San Diego businesses, the Ma-quiladoras del Norte. When is the labor Department going to take a hand on in what is obviously a labor problem? The issue of people crossing to come to work is a problem of how to deal with transitional labor that crosses and returns in rhythm with the labor cycle and not a law and order problem.
"Actually, we are doing more with the INS in this regard," said Herman. "We are looking at where we have legal immigrants or work situations where employers are not enforcing fair labor standards. The President in this year's budget has asked for additional resources to strengthen our enforcement in this regard. We will be able to target our resources more graphically. I might add that when we look at the San Diego market in terms of the unemployment rate, where you have an unemployment rate of 30 %, we see opportunities there. Not only in investing in training and development of workers, to take advantage of growing jobs, but we also believe we have to do more to enforce policies to make sure that workers are going to be paid for the work they do," she stated.
(L/P) - Increases in the workforce in the San Diego region but they are mostly in the Service sector. They are all in the low scale paying jobs most of the low salary jobs, that I call the Taco Bell type, are not attractive to the American Hispanic work-force. They cannot live on the salaries they pay. However they are attractive to the immigrant workers, the marginally employed or the children in school.
"We have to now target our resources to those areas where we know we have these kinds of issues. It is one thing to say that we have a strong economy in a Macro sense but what we have to have is microeconomics that allows going to these communities where it is not working. That is what we mean when we say we are going to strengthen our law enforcement in those areas. We are looking at these low wage industries that is part of our effort right now. We want to make sure workers are getting the protections and the coverage that they need. I am not disagreeing with the emphasis that you are speaking about. In those border communities, where we have higher rates of unemployment, I have taken a particular interest in them. We are going to be sure that we put resources in those communities."
"Dislocated worker funds that I administer directly," she said, "are available to the States. They can apply for these funds when you have had a disproportionate number of layoffs and a disproportionate number of workers have been impacted. We are putting rapid response teams in place to go into these communities. We are making sure we are matching workers to real jobs that are being created. Recently a great deal of focus has been on Social Security, Retirement plans, IRA etc. Concerns arise over the lack of retirement plans being made available by small businesses. In response the Secretary of Labor noted:
`The President has asked for additional resources to make it easier for small businesses, where Hispanics are concentrated, to provide pension plans for their workers. We are also looking into creating Universal Saving Accounts where the government would contribute a portion toward retirement accounts. We are also looking into making it easier for retirement accounts to be portable. As workers move and change or shift jobs they can start to build up income earning capacity even though they are going from one job to another."
Equality, affirmative action, and racial discrimination have a long history in America's work place. What is in the works to resolve some of these long simmering issues?
"I am very interested in issues of racial discrimination in the work place. Racial problems are a high priority for me. I want to see that the workplace is free of discrimination. We administer the Office of Federal Contract Compliance. This is the office that will work with any employer who has a contract with the Federal Government to make sure they maintain a discrimination free workplace," Herman stated.
(L/P) - San Diego is loaded with Federal Agencies & Departments that have less than 5% Hispanic employees in their workforces even though Hispanics are 30% of the population in the area. This would be a good place to start enforcing equal opportunity rules.
"It is a high priority with me as Secretary of Labor," she said. "The President has made the hiring of Hispanics in the Federal workforce a major commitment... I agree with you that we have to do nationally what we are doing in Washington. President Clinton has appointed more Hispanics in senior level positions than any other President in history and 8% of his appointments, including boards and commissions are held by Latinos of this country," she concluded.
There is a strong correlation between poverty, marginally employed, working for minimum and below minimum wages, and health, crime and the stability of the society. The instabilities in our cities can be attributed to the past polices of the government in the local, state and national level in not assuring equality in the work place.
Will President Clinton and his Administration make real differences in our lives? That remains to be seen.