Thank you, Senator [Conrad] Burns.
You've got a great Senator in Conrad Burns and he's doing a great job for the people of Montana. Senator Burns and Phyllis are to be commended for hosting this conference on women, which brings together many talented people from around the state to focus on the many issues of importance to women.
You're also lucky to have Phyllis Burns, a woman of great heart and compassion who's working to improve the quality of life for Montana residents. In fact, you're lucky to have them both!
I'm delighted to be here to share with Montana women the tremendous resources available at the U. S. Department of Labor to help women. These services and resources include access to skills training, educational opportunities, employment and retirement security services. In short, we want women to realize their dreams.
Our country has come a long way economically in the past three-and-a-half years. When this Administration took office, our country was already in a recession although it was not widely reported at the time. We were just coming out of it through the President's economic leadership when the devastating attacks of 9/11 took place. In the aftermath of 9/11 over 1 million jobs were lost.
Through tax rebates, which put more money back in the pockets of working Americans, the country came out of the recession. A couple making $40,000 annually now gets $1900 back in excess taxes.
Just yesterday, the Conference Board reported that consumers and businesses have the highest confidence in over 2 years. The pace of the recovery is strong.
Nationally, we've seen 10 straight months of job growth, producing 1.5 million new jobs since last August.
The unemployment rate remains at 5.6 percent, which is lower than the national average in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Mortgage rates are at their lowest levels in 40 years, pushing homeownership to record highs. And inflation is negligible.
In fact, last week's jobs numbers show Montana's unemployment rate at 4.8 percent is—again—below the national average. And Montana has gained 5,600 jobs from June 2003 to June 2004.
Wherever I go in this country, I meet women like yourselves who are making a difference in their neighborhoods, communities and in the workplace.
Many women here today work in the home, raising the families who are the future of our country. Women today comprise more than half of all workers in management, professional and related occupations in the United States. And women are at the forefront of entrepreneurship, creating millions of new jobs and building our nation's economic security.
Women are also pioneers in volunteerism and philanthropy. I know this firsthand as the former President and CEO of United Way of America and Director of the Peace Corps.
I am proud to work for an Administration and a President that values the accomplishments of women and has put so many accomplished women in positions of leadership in the government.
President George W. Bush appointed me as the first woman of Asian descent to serve in the Cabinet in our country's history. I have had three women colleagues in the Cabinet—Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann Venneman and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christy Todd Whitman. At the White House there are National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, one of the President's closest foreign policy advisors; Harriet Miers, Deputy White House Chief of Staff and Margaret Spellings, Domestic Policy Advisor—all key players in policy decisions. Everywhere you look in this Administration, women are making policy decisions.
At the Department of Labor, I'm proud to say that a full 50 percent of the top leadership is women—this gender parity is more than any other Cabinet department in the Administration and a record in the history of our country. We don't just talk about women's progress—we make it happen!
But the gains that women have made could not have been achieved without the hard work, sacrifice and the paths that women blazed before us. Today, there are so many opportunities for women to realize their dreams.
Many women are choosing to go into business for themselves. In fact, women-owned small businesses are growing at twice the rate of their male-owned counterparts.
The Department of Labor has sponsored five Women's Entrepreneurship Summits in the last two years, attended by thousands of women from around the country. We provide a forum where women can learn about accessing capital, affordable health care, government procurement, corporate networking and how to grow their businesses through exporting and marketing. Many of them started in their basements or kitchen. If you're interested in starting your own business, you can learn more at the Department's Women's Entrepreneurship Web site at: www.women-21.gov.
Women of all ages and stages in life can find other help at the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.
The online Wise Up money management program is designed to help women build financial security. It shows how to manage household budgets, how to save and how to use credit wisely.
Another great opportunity is the GEM (Girls E-Mentoring program in) Nursing online program. It helps young women and others explore careers in nursing, which is one of the fastest growing occupations in America. We will need more than 1 million nurses alone by 2012 and 3.4 million healthcare workers in the next 8 years. The GEM SET (Girls E-Mentoring program in Science, Engineering and Technology) online program can also help mothers steer their daughters into rewarding careers in science, engineering and technology.
Explore these programs at the Department of Labor's Web site at: www.dol.gov. And then click on "WB" for the Women's Bureau.
The President and I are mindful that there are many people who still need our help. We will not be satisfied until everyone who wants to work can find a job. That's why the President has requested $23 billion for 34 different training and employment programs that will help workers find and prepare for the jobs of the 21st Century. In addition, the Labor Department alone has requested $9.5 billion from the Congress for employment and job training programs. Some of the services provided include job training, counseling, and help with paying transportation, child-care expenses, health insurance premiums. The President and the Department of Labor want to ensure that people needing help will get it as the economy continues to improve. The U.S. Department of Labor gives Montana $44.2 million annually from the U.S. Department of Labor for training, employment and unemployment services.
This Administration has tremendous resources available to help every job seeker. There are 22 Job Service Workforce Centers in Montana. The centers offer skills training and many support services, including childcare and transportation while in training. These centers are also a resource for employers. Those of you looking to update your skills or find a new career path should feel free to take the opportunity to visit one of these centers. They're friendly, welcoming and caring places. You can find the one nearest you at this Web site address: www.servicelocator.org.
Kalispell is a model of the partnership between employers, community colleges and Job Service Workforce Centers. I just visited the Kalispell Job Link Workforce Center and saw firsthand what they are doing to help workers access training and find good jobs. One of the most important things to know about the economy is that lifelong learning and retraining are the keys to building a successful career in the 21st Century workplace. Our economy is changing rapidly and new jobs are being created. But many of these require updated skills and training. That's why the President announced a new job-training program in January—the Jobs for the 21st Century Initiative. It will expand the ability of community colleges right here in Montana to train workers for jobs in high-growth industries and link them with employers. So there are many resources available to help workers pursue their dreams. Please spread the word!
Before I close, I'd like to share with you my observations from a very special trip I made earlier this year to Iraq. In Iraq, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the tremendous progress that has been made. There are still many challenges, as we all know. Security is especially important. But so much good has been accomplished—especially for Iraqi women. Democracy is taking shape and women's rights are advancing in Iraq—despite the attempts of extremists and criminals to derail these achievements.
One particular visit in Iraq made a deep impression—my visit to the Women's Rights and Democracy Center in Hilla, about 70 miles south of Baghdad. This is one of 17 Centers this Administration is setting up throughout Iraq to promote women's rights, democracy and opportunity.
Hilla is a town on the edge of the ancient city of Babylon. 60 percent of the population is comprised of women because Saddam Hussein killed so many of the men over 40. Recently uncovered mass graves outside of town were visible as we approached the city by helicopter.
But the Iraqi women I met at Hilla were anything but afraid. They are tough-minded and hungry for democracy. They want to participate fully in all aspects of their government and their country. They face incredible challenges and yet they are determined to see their country and their lives change. At the center I visited, women covered in black from head to toe were surfing the net and learning how to start their own businesses in catering and sewing.
As I left, I left them a framed picture of the top women leaders at the U.S. Department of Labor, as an inspiration of what women can achieve.
So let me close with that message today. How fortunate we are to live in a land of peace and opportunity. No mater what your goal—a different career, a better paying job, a good education for your children—you can accomplish your dreams.
But change doesn't happen overnight. The important thing is to focus on your goal, and take steps—no matter how small— each and every day to reach that goal.
So thank you for inviting me here today to share these thoughts with you.
God bless you and God bless America!