Labor Secretary Tom Perez told Bloomberg TV on Friday that “we can do better” at putting Americans to work, even with his department’s September report that showed a gain of 156,000 jobs.
Despite the uptick in jobs, the unemployment rate held at 5 percent.
“You look at where we are this year, we’ve averaged over 170,000 jobs created a month. And as you get closer to full employment — and we’re nowhere near full employment yet, we can do better,” Perez said. “What you see is oftentimes a trade-off between the number of jobs created and wage growth. And that’s what we’re seeing in this recovery.”
“We have wage growth now annualized 2.8 percent this year, which is very solid. And so that — this is what you see in a business cycle as you continue to move up that mountain.”
Asked what “full employment” means to him, Perez replied, “Well, I’ll tell you, here’s what I know. We’re not there yet.”
“You know, at the end of the late ’90s, we had unemployment rates at 4 percent and we saw real wage growth during that period. And we’re at 5 percent now, which is a heck of a lot better than what the president inherited, but we can do better,” he added. “And when you invest in infrastructure and scale, when you raise the minimum wage, when you pass immigration reform, those are the ways to create tighter job markets and lower unemployment.”
“…What economists say, and there’s a range of opinions, is in order to maintain our progress and keep that unemployment rate moving toward full employment, you need to have anywhere between like 70,000 and 100,000 jobs created a month. So when you’re above that figure any month, you are moving in the right direction. When you’re below that figure, you’re treading water at best. So we’ve been consistently above that figure. We’ve been averaging about 175,000 jobs this year, with over 200,000 last year.”
Perez said he’d “love to pick up the pace” if there could be bipartisan agreement in Congress on policies such as the minimum wage.
Still, he argued, “prosperity was broadly shared” over the past year, as shown by Census date on median household income. “Three million people were lifted out of poverty last year. That’s the largest one-year reduction in the poverty rate since the late ’60s,” the Labor secretary said.
“…I still meet many people who are struggling to make ends meet. There’s no one spiking the football anywhere here at the White House. And we know what to do moving forward and we’re going to continue to be relentless to pursue this agenda of jobs, good jobs in infrastructure and elsewhere.”