Ed. Note: Cross-posted from the fastlane.dot.gov.
Just a few days ago we learned that, among the nation's largest racial and ethnic groups, a greater share of Hispanics in 2010 lived in poverty than any other group. So, when I say that nearly everyone in America knows someone looking for work, this is especially true among Latinos.
And yesterday, when I spoke with leaders of the National Puerto Rican Coalition and said that Americans can't wait to see their friends and neighbors back on the job, I saw plenty of heads nodding in agreement.
The coalition works to improve the well-being of Puerto Ricans throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico. And because NPRC members have a special focus on the most vulnerable people, they know the kinds of sacrifices that families are making every day. It's difficult enough to pay the mortgage, gas up the car, or keep the lights on when parents are employed; these difficult economic times complicate that daily struggle.
Our economic challenges were decades in the making. They won’t be solved overnight. But even still, there are steps we can take right now to put people back to work and to restore some of the economic security that folks of every creed and color have felt slipping away for the last few decades.
One of these steps is passing the transportation provisions in the American Jobs Act. These would provide an immediate investment in construction jobs upgrading 150,000 miles of road; laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of train tracks; restoring 150 miles of runways; and putting in place a next-generation air traffic control system that will reduce travel times and delays.
Another of these steps is passing a transportation reauthorization--long-term, job-creating legislation that puts people back to work rebuilding roads, bridges, and transit systems, on the mainland and on Puerto Rico.
The American people need help now. So, President Obama has pledged that where Congress won't act, this administration will. And I don't think anyone can doubt that, at the Department of Transportation, we take this commitment very seriously.
We’re connecting people with convenient, reliable, affordable transit choices. Whether we're talking about work or education, transportation connects people with opportunity. Investing in modern transportation also helps entrepreneurs launch businesses and allows families to spend more time together.
Improving transit access is a big deal for the Latino community, which is three times more likely than the general population to use public transportation. It’s an especially big deal in the communities of New York, Florida, New Jersey, and the other 47 states that almost 5 million Puerto Ricans call home. And it's a big deal in Puerto Rico, where 3.5 million others live.
We’re also fighting to create jobs, spur economic development, and shore up our nation’s economic competitiveness. Our record speaks for itself.
We've put tens of thousands of people back to work on 15,000 transportation projects in all 50 states and in Puerto Rico. By the year’s end, we'll be announcing another round of competitive TIGER grants that will fund even more job-creating projects to solve key transportation challenges.
When I met with Governor Fortuno of Puerto Rico this summer, we talked about the island's transportation needs and future possibilities, and I told him that the Obama Administration is looking forward to a new and enduring partnership.
There's a lot at stake. Our parents and grandparents sacrificed and struggled so we might have the chance to lead the lives that we do. We owe our children and grandchildren the same opportunity.
That’s the America President Obama believes in. That’s the America I believe in. That’s the America the NPRC's members believe in. And that’s the America we can reclaim, as long as we work together.
As President Obama has said, the time for action is now. We can’t wait.
Ray LaHood is the United States Secretary of Transportation.