As the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, I am reminded of my mother, Elisa. She persevered through adversity to ensure that her six children would have a better life. She instilled in us a confidence to have big dreams despite growing up in public housing in Harlem.
Mom lived long enough to see me fulfill my dream of becoming an attorney, but she could have never dreamed her daughter would one day work for the President of the United States.
This administration’s commitment to Latinas starts at the top. President Obama has nominated more Latinas to positions of power than any chief executive in American history. This includes nominating Justice Sonia Sotomayor to be the first Latina on the Supreme Court and Secretary Hilda L. Solis as the first Latina to lead the Department of Labor.
Now that so many Latinas have ascended to positions of power in this administration, it is our responsibility to help Latinas—and all American women—climb the ladder of opportunity.
Today, there are more than 50 million Latinos living in the continental United States and another 4 million on the island of Puerto Rico. That accounts for 16.3 percent of our nation’s population, meaning that one in six Americans is Latino, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
Since 1999, American Latinas have been the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. However, Latinas have the lowest labor force participation rate, suffer higher rates of poverty and are more likely to work in the lower-paying service occupations than white, black or Asian women. As a result, more Latino children live in poverty than children of any other ethnic group.
Empowering working women to achieve economic security, particularly the most vulnerable workers, is a primary goal of the Women’s Bureau here at the Department of Labor. We will continue to work tirelessly to break down barriers until economic equality is a reality for all working women.
For the past four weeks, President Obama has used Hispanic Heritage Month as a platform to articulate his vision for economic growth for the Latino community and the entire nation. His American Jobs Act will improve opportunities for the Latino community through investments to revitalize schools and communities, the extensions of unemployment benefits for one million unemployed Latinos, and payroll tax relief to help spur hiring at 250,000 Latino-owned small businesses.
Latinos make up a significant segment of the national population in the United States. Our rich heritage is increasingly more visible in business, politics and culture. In a presidential proclamation, President Obama declared, “The future of America is inextricably linked to the future of our Hispanic community.”
I wish Mom could see me now—proud to be leading a division in the Department of Labor committed to making the American dream a reality for Latinas and all working women.
To find out more about the Women’s Bureau and our priorities, visit our website at www.dol.gov/wb.
Sara Manzano-Díaz is Director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.