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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 22, 1994
                            PRESS BRIEFING

The Briefing Room

1:59 P.M. EST

SECRETARY REICH: Let me just say a few words. At this point in time, I guess many of you are focused on the issue of foreign intelligence. Well, we're here to talk about, the intelligence of Americans. And that's what the President talked about this morning. In fact, in this new world economy, national security depends as much if not more on what we as Americans are able to do and innovate our capacity to work together constructively, add value, to an increasingly integrated world economy.

The morning the President outlined a lifelong learning agenda. It's an agenda in which he is intimately involved that begins with young people even before they start school; and emphasizes particular transitions which are difficult for many Americans.

As Secretary of Labor, I see everyday the relationship between what you earn and what you learn. In fact, today, education doesn't end at the age of 18 or 16 or even for those who go into college at the age of 22. Education must be a lifelong process.

We at the Department of Labor, working very closely with the Department of Education, have been focusing upon several initiatives the President mentioned. One is the school to work transition. Legislation has already moved through the House and the Senate; it will go into conference very shortly -- legislation which will ease the transition and provide young people the skills they need; young people who move from school to work but not necessarily get a four-year college degree.

Among industrialized nations we have one of the best systems of higher education in the world, but among the worst systems for getting young people from school to work. The President displayed a chart showing a widening gap between those who are well educated and those who are less educated in terms of earnings. That gap is widening year by year. It's been widening for 15 years. Because there is greater and greater demand for skilled people, but less and less demand for people with less skills, for relatively unskilled.

During the past week, I visited in Chicago and in Los Angeles young people, inner-city people who otherwise would not have graduated from high school. They were getting skills. And in the centers and training centers I visited, 90 percent of them were getting jobs. And not just jobs, good jobs -- jobs paying $7 to $10 to $12 an hour, starting. They were learning skills -- in becoming PBX technicians. They were gaining skills in plastic injection molding, in spring coil development, design.

There are skilled jobs out there. You don't need a college degree. And we as a society will be endangered if we make that parchment, called a college degree, the parchment that divides our winners from our losers.

The Labor Department and the Education Department are also working on the development and will be working as soon as the legislation has passed on the development of voluntary national skill standards which will enable anyone, whether they lose a job or whether they are a young person who may not be going to college, even if a young person who is going to college to gain a nationallyrecognized core set of skills -- a core set of skills that can be used to get jobs, employers can build on those skills, a certificate which shows that young person or individual has gained mastery in a particular cluster of skills -- nationally recognized.

Finally, we are working together and working with other departments -- one of the key administrative initiatives coming up, legislation to be introduced within the next month on reemployment. One of the hardest transitions Americans now face is the transition from job to job. Record numbers of Americans are now unemployed for more than six months. Although jobs are coming back into the United States, we are experiencing unprecedented job change. Some of it is propelled by corporate downsizing; some of it by defense downsizing; some of it by technological change -- entire industries, like the mainframe computer industry are suddenly altered; some of it by international trade -- international trade is good for all of us, but it does mean substantial job changes.

And if we succeed in getting some control over the growth of health care expenditures, there will be job changes there as well. We anticipate hundreds of thousands of new jobs in home health care. But at the same time, a slow down, if not an absolute reversal, in the paper health care sector of the economy; that is, people who are engaging in simply reviewing insurance claims and putting data into computers and taking it out of computers -- the red tape side of health.

Americans need help moving from job to job. The President will be introducing, within the next month -- the reemployment act of 1994. He alluded to it this morning. I will not get into the details right now, but simply to say that we will be turning the unemployment insurance system into a reemployment system. The old unemployment insurance system was predicated on the notion that you got your old job back again after recession. It provided some means of tiding you over until you got the old job back. It was primarily counter-cyclical program.

But if we've learned anything from the past recession and now the recovery, it's that the old jobs are not coming back. People need help getting the next job. We will be providing one-stop shopping of services ranging from job training to job search assistance, job counseling. And in many cases, most importantly, good, accurate up-to-date information on where the new jobs are; what to train for; what skills are needed.

All of this together and several of the initiatives that Secretary Riley are going to be talking about -- Secretary Riley will talk about -- all of these initiatives together spell out a very, very different approach, a fundamentally new approach, to the most valuable resource in our economy -- and that is, to use a coldblooded term, human capital. Every other resource in American moves easily across borders these days -- technology; money; factory and equipment can be put anywhere. The one resource relatively immobile upon which our future uniquely depends is the capacities of our people to innovate.

Next year's budget, the 1995 budget, calls for an unprecedented increase in human resource investments. The President will be asking for $3.3 billion increase. And remember, this is a time of budget stringency when everything else is, or most other things are shrinking $3.3 billion increase in human resource investments, spread between several different departments, all targeted to improving the ability of Americans to lead full and productive lives. Thank you.

SECRETARY RILEY: I think the President's speech this morning to the American Council of Education was a clear statement that education is back from the dead in terms of the federal government. As you know, we've had a right difficult time in the Department of Education during the '80s really was designed at one point in time as part of a system that would eliminate it. But that was not the case. Today, the President gave a very comprehensive strategy of the nation's education agenda. And then, importantly, he explained then why it was so important, and part of that is what Secretary Reich has talked about -- the jobs and the productivity and so forth.

What's radically new is that the President has put the marker down, saying to one and all that education is not only back from the dead, but it'll play a very unique role in his agenda in the future. The President spoke directly to a number of critical areas and what's unique about it is that there was a connection shown between each one of these various areas.

So often in the past, each new idea in education has been treated separately, but the President put this together, I thought, in a very clear and interesting way to show where he is going. Now, what the President said today probably isn't hard news. But I'll tell you, it is long news. The changes that we are starting to put in place will change how, what and when the children of American learn. And they will eventually lead to the reinvention of the American high school. They will alter what the majority of Americans do after getting out of high school -- in effect, how they finance their college education; for the first time, address the reality that most Americans are going to have to spend the rest of their lives in a job market that offers them hardly any job security. Their assets have to be with them in the form of an eduction.

This administration is being very specific in saying that new connections have to be made if we are going to make a difference. America has somewhat become disconnected from its children. I spoke about that last week. And we need to strengthen that part of our education system along with folks outside the system. How Americans think about education has to change. I think that's what the President's speech was all about. That's why we are going to reinvent the American high school and why the school-to-work proposal that the President spoke about is so important.

If you look at all that he said this morning from Head Start to Goals 2000 to the new reemployment act to Americans being involved on a personal level with their children's education, you are talking about a new and coherent and comprehensive education outlook which will reshape dozens of federal programs and alter how Americans think about education for years to come.

Now, we'd be happy to respond to any questions.

Q Secretary Reich, you are saying that situation is very bad as far as the putting to work of youngsters in the United States is concerned. When you are sitting together in Detroit with your colleagues from other industrialized countries, you are finding out that all those environments are much better than -- in your statement. And the unemployment is much higher, too. How does that make sense?

SECRETARY REICH: Well, we're not for the very strong systems of investment in human capital abroad, including apprenticeship and the active engagement of employers in training workers. I fear that the job situation abroad would be much worse.

The United States is blessed with a very vital and dynamic labor market, but our weakness -- and it's a long-term weakness, this isn't a sudden weakness -- our weakness has been our failure to invest well and systematically in our people -- their skills, their capacities to innovate and their ability to work together constructively. This is a challenge for the private sector, for the public sector and for individuals and families.

Q But in spite of that, the situation as far as unemployment is concerned is much better in this country compared with those high-skilled Europeans. What went wrong there?

SECRETARY REICH: Actually, over the past 20 years, the United States has created approximately 40 million new jobs, Europeans have created maybe 2 to 3 million. On the other hand, over the past 15 or 20 years, average wages in the United States have stagnated for nonsupervisory workers, they've actually declined. In Europe, average wages have increased -- by some measures, 50 percent to 60 percent.

The question which one is compelled to ask is: Are we in industrialized nations condemned to make a Hobbsian choice between, on the one hand, more jobs which don't pay well, or better jobs, but fewer of them. I think the answer is no. And I believe, personally, that if we combine the best of all nations -- that is, investments in people, a dynamic and flexible labor market, and all encased within a set of macroeconomic policies designed for growth, that we could have both more jobs and better jobs.

Q Secretary Reich, will you be unveiling your reemployment initiative before the Detroit conference, and how will that conference relate, what can we expect in those terms from that conference?

SECRETARY REICH: We expect to unveil and introduce the Reemployment Act of 1994 before the middle of March. The conference itself is designed to be a candid exchange of views, of data, of analyses among ministers, particularly those dealing with the economy and labor, focusing on issues such as the issue I just raised -- that is, are we condemned to engage in a terrible choice, given changes in technology, given globalization; what can we learn from one another; what is the precise contour of the labor situation in other countries?

We don't expect to come out with any particular answer. There will not be a communique. We're not seeking a consensus judgment. It is an opportunity for all of us to gain a better understanding of the job situation and jobs problems in other nations -- quality of jobs, numbers of jobs -- and see if there aren't any good ideas which we can adopt from one another.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END2:14 P.M. EST