Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on the September jobs report
SEANA SMITH: The US added 156,000 jobs in September, while the unemployment rate rose slightly to 5% for the first time since April.
Joining me now is US labor secretary Thomas Perez.
Secretary, it's great to have you back with us this month.
THOMAS PEREZ: Always good to be with you and your viewers, Seana.
SEANA SMITH: The September jobs report fell short of Wall Street expectations.
What's your take on the number? THOMAS PEREZ: Oh, I think this is another solid report.
It shows steady job growth, steady wage growth.
We've now had 72 months in a row of job growth to the tune of 14.
4 million jobs.
The real wage growth we're seeing in this business cycle is the best of any business cycle since the 1970s.
And so, you look at this.
You couple it with the census report that showed real median household income from 2014 to 2015 rose over 5%, which is the largest single-year increase since the late '60s.
The poverty rate went down over 3 million.
3 and 1/2 million people were able to climb out of poverty, which is the largest single drop in the poverty rate since the late '60s.
We see a lot of these indicators that are moving in the right direction.
We have more work to do.
There's no doubt about that.
And there's no doubt about how we could do that work.
If we had infrastructure investments at scale, we had a higher minimum wage, we had passed immigration reform, our unemployment rate would be even lower.
But there's no mistaking that we inherited a mess when this president took over.
The economy was in a ditch.
We've climbed out of that ditch.
And we're moving in the right direction.
SEANA SMITH: And you say that we just climbed out of the ditch.
We're moving in the right direction.
So, do you think that the Fed should raise rates in December? Do you think that this jobs report was an example that the economy is in fact gaining momentum and on the right track? THOMAS PEREZ: Well, I always leave it to the Fed to make those decisions.
Here's what we know.
You look at the key indicators of what direction the economy is moving in– for instance, first-time claims for unemployment.
We've now had 83 weeks in a row under 300,000.
And for your viewers, if you want to get a framework, during the depths of the recession, we were over 600,000 a week.
And so, that's– we've had the longest streak since 1970.
And first-time claims for unemployment are a really good bellwether of how the economy's doing.
You look at the census report on income– another good bellwether that we're moving in the right direction.
You look at job growth, which is a huge issue.
And– and again, you see not only growth in the number of jobs, but you look at last month's report, for instance.
Over 3/4 of the jobs created were in these well-paying sectors– business and professional services, construction, and health care.
These are good middle-class jobs that are being created.
So, it's not only the quantity of jobs.
It's the quality of jobs.
And we're seeing that reflected now in the census data that is showing that median household income is moving up.
So, we have– again, we have more work to do, because I still meet too many people who are struggling.
And we still have way too many people working a 50-hour job and getting their food at the food pantry.
And you've got to win the geographic lottery to have a decent minimum wage in this country.
SEANA SMITH: And talking about some of your frustrations, right now, the pace of job creation has slightly slowed since last year.
Some industries, such as energy and manufacturing, have dialed back on their hiring.
Is this a concerning trend? THOMAS PEREZ: Sure.
I mean, the manufacturing growth.
We had very solid manufacturing growth in the first six years of the Obama Administration.
And we're confronting two headwinds now.
Number one is the strong dollar.
Most– so many manufacturing the operations here are manufacturing for export.
When you have a strong dollar, it costs more to sell your product abroad.
And then the global economic headwinds that we're confronting.
That makes life that much more challenging as well, when you have export-dependent industries such as manufacturing.
And when gas is at $2 a gallon, that is a net plus for the American consumer.
And more people have more money in their pockets, because they're not paying what they were paying for gas a couple of years ago.
It's undeniable, though, that that has an impact on jobs in certain regions of the country.
SEANA SMITH: We briefly touched on wages earlier.
Gains this month have– were just about 2/10 of a percent.
So, what do you think needs to be done in order to boost wage growth? THOMAS PEREZ: Well, again, we have an annualized growth rate this year of 2.
That's solid, because inflation is next to nothing at the moment.
And you look at where real wages have grown in this business cycle, and we see the largest growth rate in real wages in this business cycle than any business cycle in the 1970s.
Having said that, I know we can do better.
And tighter labor markets always put upward pressure on wages.
I look at the late '90s as a bellwether of sorts.
The unemployment rate was 4% at the end of the Clinton Administration.
And we saw sustained real wage growth during that period, because tight labor markets mean that employers have to compete for that workforce.
And they compete by lifting wages.
And so we're at 5% now.
And that is solid.
I'm particularly heartened by the fact that over the last year, roughly 3 million people have entered the labor force, lifting our labor force participation.
So, they've either found jobs or they're looking for jobs.
That's another bellwether of consumer confidence.
And as this happens, as we continue to see tighter labor markets, I think that's going to be a huge way to help lift real wages.
We're also doing a lot to invest in skills.
I was at a computer coding camp in Delaware earlier this week.
And I met people who are going through a 12-week camp.
And at the end of that camp, they're going into jobs in which they're literally doubling– in some cases, more than doubling– their wages.
And so, when we invest in skills, and when we match people's skills with the in-demand jobs– and there are 5.
9 million job openings right now, Seana, including about 10% in the IT sector.
And many of those jobs don't require a college degree.
There's real opportunity out there.
So, we're match.
Com here at the Department of Labor.
We try to match job seekers who want to punch their ticket to the middle class with businesses who want to grow their business.
And there are many of them out there.
And we use that secret sauce of training and partnership with community colleges and other training providers to help people lift wages.
More work to do, but I think we're moving in the right direction.
SEANA SMITH: Secretary Perez, thank you so much for joining me today.
THOMAS PEREZ: Always a pleasure to be with you, Seana.
SEANA SMITH: And now it's your turn.
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