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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript: Jobs Report and Unemployment

Interview

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COSTELLO: Now, let's turn to the economy and a new measure of the nation's struggling job market. This morning, we learned that 113,000 jobs were created in January. That's far fewer jobs than expected. The nation's jobless rate slides to 6.6 percent. Of course, that conceals that problem. Many Americans are simply dropping out of the labor force. In fact, a third of working age Americans are unemployed. With me now, Thomas Perez, U.S. Labor Secretary. Welcome, Mr. Secretary.

THOMAS PEREZ, LABOR SECRETARY: Always a pleasure to be with you.

COSTELLO: A 113,000 jobs, that must be disappointing for you?

PEREZ: I think there are a number of bright spots in this report. There is also an obvious need to pick up the pace. In terms of the bright spots, we see 142,000 private sector jobs created. That's 47 consecutive months to the tune of 8.5 million jobs, very strong growth in manufacturing and construction, which are key industries. The average manufacturing worker continues to work over 40 hours a week. I think that's really good.

During this same 47-month period where we have seen 8.5 million private sector jobs created, we have contracted 650,000 or so government jobs. That's unprecedented in a recovery. If it had simply stayed flat, our employment rate would be 6.2 percent. Labor force participation was actually up last month. The unemployment rate went down for the right reason. That's an important point.

COSTELLO: Still, too many people remain out of work and too many people have given up looking for a job. I'm going to bring up the Keystone pipeline because the State Department report came out and said that if the Keystone pipeline was continued, that would create almost 2,000 jobs and support tens of thousands of other jobs. Is it time for the president to give the OK to Keystone?

PEREZ: Well, the president has outlined a very thoughtful and deliberate process. The State Department report is one part of that process. I am confident that they are going to continue.

COSTELLO: In your estimation, though, does that need to happen?

PEREZ: Again, the process that's undergoing right now is, I think very thoughtful and deliberate, and I'm certainly -- I know that there are many very, very smart people involved in that decision-making process. I am confident it will be very, very thorough.

COSTELLO: And I keep pressing you because this report also found that Keystone wouldn't have a big impact on climate change. So a lot of people are wondering why not give the go-ahead and create these much- needed jobs?

PEREZ: Well, again, I think there has been a very well thought-out process that has been outlined in this report that you mentioned is one part of that process. They are going to continue in a very thorough and deliberate manner, which is what's called for under the applicable provisions of law.

COSTELLO: Well, one of the reasons that the Senate didn't move forward on long-term unemployment benefits is because of this Keystone pipeline. Is it now time to compromise?

PEREZ: I'm not hearing that they didn't move forward on long-term unemployment benefits because of the Keystone pipeline. I hope they move forward on that because it is the right thing to do and it's the smart thing to do. And 1.7 million people have lost this critical life line. They have gone from a challenging situation to a crisis.

They are sitting in their homes as Katherine in Connecticut tells me with her hat and gloves on, because she has to keep the heat at 54 degrees. That's not right. Congress has a long and proud bipartisan tradition of extending these benefits. We are making progress in the economic recovery, but we are not moving fast enough.

We need to pick up the pace and the president has put forth many proposals. Until we are at the level where long-term unemployment is reduced, we need to continue that lifeline.

COSTELLO: Right. Well, I want to talk more about that lifeline and why the Senate didn't move forward on that bill. This is from Republican Congressman James Langford. He said in the "New York Times," the perception I get from the Senate is that times are tough. We should make times tougher on our kids to make it easier on us and then feel better. I think that's just not a philosophy I'm willing to report. It doesn't sound like Republicans are going to change their minds because they just have a different philosophy, right. So I mean, should the president drop the issue because there seems to be no winning it?

PEREZ: I disagree. Change is about persistence. The last five times that the unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed have been extended, there have been no strings attached including under President Bush. This president is persistent. He will continue to work on this issue and in the meantime, he is not going to wait for Congress. That's why he convened a meeting last week of CEOs to talk about steps that we can take without Congress to help the long-term unemployed.

We have put a $150 million grant program out in the streets so that we can categorize innovation in this area so that we can bring together key stakeholders to help the long-term unemployed with programs such as wage subsidization where if an employer hires a long-term unemployed, the wage will be subsidized for six months, 50-50, sometimes even more so that we can help employers take a chance.

It's a chance worth taking because I have spoken to so many long-term unemployed. They are looking, looking, and looking and they are doing their best and they have a lot to offer. We need to stand by them. This isn't a country where we kick people to the side of the road who have fallen on hard times through no times of their own.

We can do better than that. It is the right thing to do and it's the smart thing to do. We are not going to wait for Congress. We are going to keep doing the things that we've described and the president will continue to use that pen and that phone to help people in need.

COSTELLO: Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I appreciate it.

PEREZ: Always a pleasure.

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