As I sat in the House chamber tonight, seated with my Cabinet colleagues, listening to President Obama outline his bold agenda to spur job-creation in America, I couldn’t help but think about someone who was also there with us. She was sitting with the First Lady in the balcony above me.
Her name is Gracey Ibarra. She came by my office earlier in the afternoon, and her story is inspiring.
Gracey is a single mother who graduated from high school in 2009. Conventional wisdom suggests that her odds of finding a good job were slim in this tough economy. But sometimes, conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.
You see, America has a critical nursing shortage, and Gracey knew it. About a half-a-million nurses are expected to retire in the next 10 years, and U.S. staffing agencies posted more than 121,000 new job ads for RNs in the month of May alone.
Gracey cares about people, she has a terrific personality and works hard. She also has a loving family that was willing to help care for her child while she pursued an education. So she enrolled in a training program funded by my department and earned her credential as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
Before the ink was dry on her certificate, she was offered a job at her local hospital making $10.59 an hour. And because the hospital desperately needs registered nurses, they’ve offered her a scholarship so she can continue her education and fulfill her dream of becoming an RN.
Gracey sees herself as a role model for other Latino youth. When her peers ask her questions about her experiences, she tells them to think about a medical career. Because bilingual skills like hers—language abilities shared by hundreds of thousands of Latino youth—make them a hot commodity in today’s labor market.
In the next 40 years, two-thirds of America’s population growth will come from the Latino community. We need nurses with bilingual skills in clinics, hospitals and doctor’s offices across the country.
To those who say the phrase “investments in the American worker” is just Washington doublespeak for irresponsible spending— to those who say we can’t afford to invest in skills training vital to putting this country back to work—I say:
Meet Gracey Ibarra.
Tonight, the President outlined a plan that will put young people like Gracey on a path not just to a job, but to rewarding careers. Every day, people in this country like Gracey are working hard to meet their responsibilities.
The question now is whether members of Congress will step up and meet theirs.