Secretary Elaine Chao


Women’s Leadership Board

Thank you, Melanie [Sabelhaus, former Deputy Administrator to the U.S. Small Business Administration].

Good morning! It is great to be in a roomful of women! You are living testament to the world of opportunities out there for women today.

This morning, I’d like to share some thoughts on the state of the economy, how women are poised for success in our changing economy, and what this Administration is doing to help women succeed.

As some of you may know, the World Economic Forum recently released its Global Competitiveness Report for 2007-08. And, this year, the U.S. topped the rankings as the most competitive economy in the world.

Also, earlier this year, the International Institute for Management Development released its World Competitiveness Yearbook for 2007. And, of the 55 economies ranked by the IMD, the U.S. again ranked No. 1.

And the UN — through the International Labor Organization — recently issued a report naming America’s workers the most productive of any nation. And that’s key because it’s clear that labor market flexibility is one of our nation’s most important competitive advantages.

As Secretary of Labor, I often travel around the world. And, it always startles audiences overseas when they learn just how fluid and dynamic the U.S. labor force is. The U.S. labor force is approximately 153 million.

And the average American worker in his mid-forties will have held more than 10 jobs. During any given year, 40 percent of the jobs in our country change hands. So change is the norm in our society, and it is how workers advance.

This level of flexibility allows workers to find better jobs and earn higher salaries as they gain experience and advance in their fields. This upward mobility is the reason why one study found that 63 percent of workers earning the minimum wage were earning more within one year. Another study found that 80 percent of minimum wage earners had graduated to a higher wage within two years.

And, flexibility is key to our nation’s economic stability, as well.

Over the past six years, our country has weathered terrorist attacks, natural disasters, rising oil prices, and a variety of other challenges. And even now, as the headlines announce the current challenges in the subprime mortgage market, our free market system continues to produce positive economic milestones worth noting. Our country has now seen 50 straight months of job growth. That’s the longest stretch of uninterrupted job growth in the 68-year history of the monthly payroll survey.

More than 8.3 million new jobs have been created since August 2003. That’s more than the Eurozone and Japan combined. Our country’s unemployment rate is 4.7 percent — a full point below the 5.7 percent average of the 1990s, which many look to as a model of economic boom. We’ve also seen a strong third quarter GDP growth of 4.9 percent. A big contributor to 3rd quarter GDP growth was rising exports, which now comprise a record 12.1 percent of GDP. So, our economy continues to set the example for the rest of the world. But, we do face challenges. Our country is increasingly part of the worldwide economy. And, as our country transitions to a knowledge-based economy, the demand for skilled and educated workers is growing.

In the decade ending in 2014, nearly two-thirds of the estimated 18.9 million new jobs will be in occupations that require some post-secondary education.

And women are well-positioned to benefit from this trend. While there are many reasons why women are succeeding in today’s workforce, one of the key reasons is that we appreciate the importance of education.

Today, American women complete high school at higher rates than men. They are more likely to enter and graduate from college than men. In fact, the number of women holding a bachelor’s degree or higher has more than doubled in the past 20 years. And just look at how far women are advancing in the professions.

  1. Almost half of all medical school students are women,
  2. Over 35 percent of all MBA students are women,
  3. And nearly 48 percent of all law school students are women.

And a look down the road shows that women are positioning themselves for even greater gains over the next twenty years. Last year, women comprised more than half of all advanced degree holders under the age of 40. So it’s no surprise that the unemployment rate for women is slightly lower than men.

Women today are contributing to our nation’s economy in so many ways. And, as we access education in increasingly higher numbers, more women are choosing to go out on their own and work for themselves. In fact, the number of women-owned businesses has grown in recent years at twice the national average.

Today, we are also continuing to see an increase in the number of dual-income households. In fact, the number of married couples with both husband and wife working full-time, year-round has almost doubled since 1980, from under 9.4 million to over 18.0 million in 2005. More and more women are pursuing professional careers or re-entering the workforce after leaving for extended periods to care for family.

And, among families in which both wives and husbands earned income, the percent of wives who earn more than their husbands has steadily increased from 19.2 percent in 1990 to 23.3 percent in 2000 and 25.5 percent in 2005. Similarly, the contribution of wives’ earnings to family income has increased from 30.7 percent in 1990 to 33.5 percent in 2000 and 35.1 percent in 2005.

Women are also playing an increasingly important role in public life. Over the past six years, President George W. Bush has appointed a record number of women to high level positions in his Administration, including five women to his current Cabinet. Today, the U.S. Senate has 16 women and the U.S. House of Representatives has 71 women. In addition, three women serve as Delegates to the House from Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC. To date, women have been elected statewide to executive offices in 49 out of our nation’s 50 states. And there are 1,735 women state legislators.

Helping women to succeed in today’s workforce continues to be a top priority of this Administration. And, President George W. Bush believes strongly that one of the best ways to help all Americans succeed is by allowing them to keep more of their hard earned money. The President has cut taxes six times. And, the cuts he implemented have benefited every American, including single women with children and women who own small businesses.

The President recognizes that small businesses are very important to workers and to the U.S. economy. In fact, two-thirds of the new jobs created in this country in the last decade and a half have been created by small and medium businesses — again, many of them women-owned businesses.

And, today, whether as sole proprietorships, limited partnerships, or subchapter S corporations, most small businesses pay taxes at the individual income tax rate. By reducing the tax rates on individuals, taxes on small businesses were cut. And, this has increased the amount of capital available to small businesses to expand and hire new workers. The President also increased investment expensing tax provisions and proposed more in the 2007 budget to help small businesses grow and create more jobs.

Unfortunately, if Congress allows the President’s tax cuts to expire, every American will face a tax increase. In fact, around 26 million small business owners — many of them women — would suffer a tax increase of more than $4,000 a year, on average.
And, the proposal — advocated by opponents of the President’s approach — to allow just the top tax rates to return to their higher 2000 levels also would disproportionately impact women. Frequently, when two single “middle-income” workers get married — each earning just $40,000, for example — their combined incomes qualify them to be in the top 20 percent of tax returns in terms of income. As a result, these middle-income earners end up penalized with a much higher tax burden.

Furthermore, the opponents’ so-called reform proposal also contains a 4 percent tax-rate surcharge on adjusted gross income over $200,000 for married couples. And, the surcharge would rise to 4.6 percent for those with income of more than $500,000. This measure would essentially penalize dual-income married couples by taxing away the wage premium they have earned through their hard work. Instead, we believe that Congress should make tax relief permanent.

Women have come a long way in our society. And the future holds even greater promise, as women position themselves for success through education and lifelong learning. Americans are living longer and healthier lives. And after retiring, many Americans are choosing to re-enter the workplace on a part time basis, or answer the call to public service. So our country offers many opportunities in all phases of life. Whether it’s in the workplace, in the home, or a combination of both, women are key to making our country stronger and more competitive.

Thank you for everything you are doing to advance the role of the women in the workplace. Working together, we can continue to ensure that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for all.