The U.S. economy closed out 2014 on a continued hot streak – 252,000 new jobs in December alone, with the unemployment rate falling to 5.6 percent. Our businesses have added 11.2 million jobs over 58 straight months, the longest streak of job growth on record.
To recap the year, Secretary Perez answered your questions about the economy in a live Facebook chat moderated by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
In case you missed it, here’s a recap of the conversation:
Chris Hayes: Ok, Secretary Perez lemme start with my first q: the latest jobs report, like most of the jobs reports in 2014 was encouraging on a number of fronts: job creation remains strong, unemployment continues to decline, etc.. But we’re still, five years into the recovery, not seeing real gains in wages and household income. Is something fundamentally broken w/ the US labor market, or do you anticipate, that if unemployment continues to fall towards where it was in the late 1990s, we’ll finally see some wage growth?
Secretary Perez: A great question. 2014 was the best year for job creation since 1999. Roughly 3 million jobs created, and the growth was broadly based, including in sectors such as manufacturing, construction, etc that pay good middle class wages. The challenges moving forward are twofold: (1) ensuring that the significant progress we are seeing results in shared prosperity; and (2) addressing the continuing challenges of real wage growth. We can pick up the pace of real wage by continuing to have strong job growth, advancing policies such as infrastructure investment and raising the minimum wage, and investing in upskilling our workforce, including the President’s proposal for access to free community college.
Heyward Johnson: Why is it that under the First African American POTUS only African Americans have had double digit unemployment his entire term and why nothing is being done to address that crisis.
Secretary Perez: The unemployment rate for African Americans has fallen 6.4 percentage points since its peak in March 2010. It is close to its pre-recession level but is still unconscionably high. The President’s investments in skills, highway infrastructure and minimum wage help all workers, including African Americans. In addition, the President has targeted specific investments through his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, Promise Zones, and Secure Cities, Secure Communities initiative to help address the persistent unemployment and opportunity gaps in minority communities.
Peter Butter: What is your take on the debate over how many jobs would be created by the Keystone Pipeline? Additionally, what kind of jobs would created?
Secretary Perez: The State Department estimates that the construction of the pipeline would require 4k construction workers. By way of comparison, last month alone, 48k construction jobs were added. So in one month alone, twelve times as many construction jobs were created.
Dawn H K Hughey: Hello Tom, I am wanting to know where President Obama’s Executive order on Salaried white collared workers for overtime pay stands? Thank you.
Secretary Perez: We are working overtime at the Dept of Labor to prepare a proposed rule on overtime. When I was growing up in Buffalo, if a friend’s parent was a manager, that meant they were in the middle class. That is no longer necessarily the case today, and our effort is designed to ensure that people who work more than 40 hours are treated fairly.
Judith Marie Hillmann: My 57 year old husband is a heavy highway and bridges carpenter. He has taken scaffolding classes so he could work at BP. They lay people on and off with whatever eb and flow they choose. He now is working on a five week job at a medical facility and will head out looking for work when that’s done. When he worked on highways and bridges was always employed. We paid our bills on time, went on vacations, out to dinner, did fun family things that required SOME extra cash. If the infrastructure was tended to like it needs, the economy would get such a boost. Please do something about the highway bill.
Secretary Perez: I wholeheartedly agree with you, Judith. Congress needs to pass a long term highway infrastructure bill because it is desperately needed and because it would create many middle class jobs for people like your husband. We must also invest in our human capital infrastructure by ensuring that everyone in America who wants to invest the time to upskill can do so. Thats why the President’s proposal for free community college is so important as well.
Susan Grundner: I just recently got laid off this past November. All of the employees that were let go that day were over 40 years old. Is there a plan to encourage companies to hire or keep employees over 40. Thank you.
Secretary Perez: If you feel like you were laid off because of your age, you should file a complaint with either the EEOC or your state or local human rights agencies. Employers are not permitted to lay off someone because of their age.
Chris Hayes: Here’s one from me: does the Department of Labor, or this White House believe that incarceration rate in the US serves as a significant obstacle to upward mobility, skills acquisition and higher labor force participation for a large chunk of Americans?
Secretary Perez: The President and I believe in second chances, and believe that we need to revamp our criminal justice system and policy to ensure that we focus on those serious criminal actors who merit incarceration,and provide alternative pathways for other offenders. The bipartisan bill that the President signed to address the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine is an example of the President’s commitment to a more balanced and fair criminal justice policy. I am working closely with Attorney General Holder to invest in a series of efforts to provide training opportunities for former offenders. One of the best strategies to reduce recidivism is to provide training and upskilling to former offenders and access to a good job.
Good Jobs Nation: What is the federal government doing to guarantee the jobs it is creating through contracting are good jobs, and don’t keep folks in poverty?
Secretary Perez: Doing business with the federal government is a privilege, not a right. The President recently issued an Executive Order directing us to put in place a system to ensure that employers who engage in systematic violations of certain laws, including anti-discrimination laws and workplace safety laws, are not permitted to access federal contracts.
Chris Hayes: Ok, that’s gonna do it for us. Thanks to U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez for joining us and for all of you for posting questions.
Secretary Perez: Thanks Chris Hayes for hosting and thanks everyone for your thoughtful questions. Stay tuned for more opportunities to ask questions about these important issues in the near future.