The Labor Department's latest jobs report shows that employers added 157,000 jobs to their payrolls in January. MSN News talked to Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris about the numbers.
MSN News: What do the new job numbers released Friday mean for America?
Harris: The reports showed good, solid, steady job growth – 157,000 overall in the economy but 166,000 in the private sector. That is the 35th consecutive month of private-sector job growth totaling more than 6.1 million jobs in the private sector. So it's a good positive report but it shows us there's more to do.
MSN News: What do you think can be done?
Harris: American working families, American small businesses really want to get going. They are ready to spend, they are ready to invest in their businesses, they are ready to hire. But one of the things holding them back is the uncertainty, being created in Congress by Congress's failure to address some of the big fiscal impact issues that remain from the deal the president forged right at the beginning of this year. So folks aren't sure what's going to happen with certain aspects of their taxes, they don't know whether government programs are going to be deeply cut or if there's going to be a sequestration of funds for programs middle-class families depend on.
As the president said, it's a salt-inflicted wound. So if Congress will act and provide families and businesses that need to plan with the certainty they need in order to be able to plan, I think we are going to see a more rapid economic growth.
Now that's not a silver bullet solution, but that is the beginning of the effort to strengthen job growth throughout all sectors of the economy.
MSN News: It looks like construction, retail, healthcare and technology are all sectors that are hiring right now – do you see it staying that way for a while?
Harris: I think the growth in January in the retail trade, about 33,000 jobs – about 10,000 of them in clothing stores – is an indication that the public, especially working families, are continuing to spend their money. They are continuing to consume and that's very important because 70 percent of the American economy depends on consumer spending.
In the construction sector, we added 28,000 jobs in January – almost 300,000 jobs from the beginning of January 2011. The count in construction only reflects those who are working directly in construction but then there are more in the industry who supply the construction industry directly – industries like sand and gravel, cement manufacturers and wood carvers.
A story that continues to be told is the health care industry. This industry seems to be impervious to economic downturns and upturns. It grows seemingly no matter what.
All those industries say a very important story but now we would like to see growth spread throughout the sector – like manufacturing, which is an important source of middle-class jobs. We had an average job growth of over 200,000 jobs in the last three months of 2012 – that was significantly higher than the average growth we saw for the rest of 2012. I think there's reason for optimism – the job growth will continue if Congress doesn't get in the way.
MSN News: How long do you think it will take unemployment rates to go down to pre-recession rates?
Harris: I don't want to speculate – that will depend on the rate of job growth over the next few months. We need significantly more robust job growth if we are going to get down to lower rates in the near term. But again, I think there's reason for hope that that's going to happen.
MSN News: What advice do you have for current job seekers?
Harris: First of all, I want them to feel like it's not their failure. There are now more than three workers unemployed for every one job that's open in the economy. That's a big improvement. At one point it was over seven unemployed workers for every job that was open in the economy.
Having said that, workers need to ask themselves whether they have the skills and experience that they need to have in order to succeed in a developing and evolving labor market. We are seeing some structural shifts in the economy – for example, advanced manufacturing, where workers are not just doing old-style machine operating, but they are using computer-driven machines, they are using much higher levels of math and statistics to be able to do the work.
MSN News: Which team were you rooting for in the Super Bowl?
Harris: It was a great game and I was rooting for the Baltimore Ravens – staff in the greater Washington area have been waiting for a Super Bowl champion for a while now, and we are happy to take Baltimore as a substitute while RG3 heals his leg.