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Workers ensure U.S. economic success



Published: Mon, September 4, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



By ELAINE L. CHAO

SECRETARY OF LABOR

One week after Labor Day, our nation will be remembering the most horrific terrorist attack in our history -- the destruction of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon, and United Airlines Flight 93, where the brave passengers immortalized the phrase, "Let's Roll." Terrorists targeted the World Trade Center because it stood as a symbol of America's economic might around the world. They thought by knocking it down, they could knock our economy down.

As we approach the five-year anniversary of this terrible event, it is abundantly clear the terrorists failed to achieve their goal. America's economy is strong.

The national unemployment rate for July 2006 was a low 4.8 percent, which is significantly lower than the 5.7 percent average for the decade of the 1990s. Our economy has posted 35 straight months of job growth with more than 5.5 million net new jobs created since August 2003. In 2005, real hourly wages were nearly 2 percent higher than in 2000, compared to the 1.1 percent rise in wages between 1990 and 1995. Wages are increasing at a rate that's more than 11/2 times faster than that of the early '90s, and the average amount of total compensation in 2005 was 7 percent higher than in 2000.

By contrast, Europe's job growth has been half that of the United States. Germany and France have unemployment rates nearly double that of the United States and long-term unemployment rates that are three times as high. Our economy continues to lead the world with no other major industrialized nation of comparable size even close. The details of why our economy remains strong despite these challenges are included in a newly released publication by the Department of Labor titled "America's Dynamic Workforce" (www.dol.gov).

Human face

Economic statistics, however, are just numbers without a human face. As labor secretary, I talk to working Americans across the country about their hopes and concerns.

I think about a woman named Robin, who left home at the age of 16 after her grandfather died, and later moved from California to Ohio. She didn't even have a coat. Robin found a job in the Ohio University Chillicothe/Berger Health System, worked hard, continued her education through a program sponsored by the Department of Labor and has become a registered nurse. Now, Robin helps deliver our next generation into the world knowing that the dreams of each of these children can come true, just like hers did.

Our nation is part of an increasingly worldwide economy. While some countries are competing to get the lowest skilled, lowest-paid jobs, that is not where our country's economic future lies. The Bush administration is determined to attract and create the highest skilled, highest paid jobs in the world for America's workers.

Today there are millions of new jobs in industries that did not even exist a generation ago. These industries provide high-value, high-paying jobs and demand workers with higher skills and more education. This does not necessarily mean a four-year college degree, but it does mean that additional specialized training will become the norm for the American worker.

Cost of education

However, many working Americans are supporting families, making house and car payments, and contributing to their retirement, and therefore may have difficulty affording the cost of continuing education. That's why the administration invests so heavily in worker training programs like the one that provided a steppingstone for Robin. And that's why this administration has proposed innovative ways for workers to access career development opportunities.

The president's Career Advancement Accounts proposal would provide eligible workers with up to $3,000 to buy the education and training that suits them best. Career Advancement Accounts would give many workers a chance to take the next step up the career ladder, increasing the opportunity for them to achieve their American dream.

America's real economic strength is our workforce, and an economic system that empowers the individual and creates limitless opportunities to build better lives. On this Labor Day, as we honor the hard work of so many before us who have built this great nation, it's more important than ever to ensure that our nation's workers have access to the education and skills training they need to thrive in the 21st century economy.

Elaine L. Chao is the U.S. secretary of labor. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.




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