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The state of the American worker

We are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Our unemployment rate is 9.7 percent and close to 15 million Americans are jobless and looking for work. Behind these numbers are real families, struggling to make ends meet.

During these tough economic times, it's important to remember workers and the contributions they have made to this great nation during this Labor Day. It's important to place their struggle front and center, and highlight what we are doing to help them and their families get through this recession.

My philosophy for the U.S. Department of Labor is to make "good jobs for everyone" a reality. Good jobs help us rebuild the middle class. They increase family incomes and decrease the wage gap. Good jobs are secure, and guarantee workers pensions and benefits. They are sustainable -- like green jobs, and allow us to export products instead of paychecks. And a good job means having a voice in the workplace.

Over my past seven months in office, I've traveled the nation and this journey has taught me many things about America's workers. They are resilient, hopeful, and optimistic. They don't want a hand out, they want to work and provide for their families.

This spirit lives on in communities, like in Ohio, where I met workers who used to manufacture auto windshields and are now manufacturing solar panels. They are providing their customers with state-of-the-art technology and contributing to our country's energy independence.

I've met workers who have re-invented and re-educated themselves for 21st century jobs. I met a man in Kansas who had been an autoworker for nearly two decades, and recently became a nurse, going from the assembly line to the lifeline. I also met a woman in Miami, who became a union electrician late in her career and has a job with security, benefits and a pension.

There are countless other examples of Americans all across our nation who are re-inventing and re-educating themselves as the workplace changes. And every one of these people renews my faith that we will overcome today's challenges.

The Department of Labor continues to move quickly and aggressively to help workers who have lost their jobs get back to permanent employment. We continue to provide new worker training opportunities for those looking to upgrade their skills, and fostered job creation in emerging sectors such as health care and information technology.

We have made $220 million available to help dislocated workers transition into new high-growth sectors; $500 million for green job training; and $114 million to community groups across the nation to provide education and training to young people. We've also extended unemployment insurance eligibility, with $7 billion available in Unemployment Insurance modernization funds.

It is imperative that communities of color, youth, veterans, workers with disabilities and women, participate in these new opportunities, because when times were good they were left behind and overlooked, therefore, we must ensure that they are not forgotten during our recovery efforts.

The Department of Labor remains committed to doing much more to help workers get through these tough times. However, all Americans have a role to play in the recovery of our economy.

Whether you have a job, or are currently unemployed, think about how you may be able to upgrade your professional skills to better meet the needs of the 21st century economy. And, if you're an employer, think about the benefits to your business -- and the economy as a whole -- that come with making "good jobs for everyone" an integral part of your workplace.

That's what this Labor Day should be about for us -- Labor Day shouldn't be a day "off", but a day "on." In these tough economic times we should help our neighbor if they are out of a job. Maybe it's watching their child while they go to an interview or reviewing their resume. It's about helping one another and our country.

Together, we can address the immediate needs facing working families, and restore America's economy as the strongest history has ever seen.

Hilda L. Solis is secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.