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Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on the jobs report: ‘We still have work to do’ in certain sectors

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U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the November jobs report and the state of the labor market.

Video transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Welcome back. We've got a jobs report this morning that, at least on the headlines, missed estimates if you look at the non-farm payrolls, but then had a better than estimated unemployment number of 4.2%. And we've had a lot of folks sort of digging under the surface of this report and saying it's a murkier picture than it maybe at first blush appears. Let's get some more clarity hopefully now from Secretary Marty Walsh. He's the Labor Secretary of the United States. Mr. Secretary, it's always good to see you after we get these reports. What do you make of the numbers on balance? Because you do seem to have some sort of crosscurrents here.

MARTY WALSH: Certainly. Certainly, when we look at this jobs report, 210,000 jobs, I look at all of the reports together. I mean, obviously, the forecast was for higher numbers. And if you look at that and look where we are today, certainly, the number's different. But look at since President Biden's taken office, we've added over almost six million jobs to the economy. The unemployment rate's 4.2%, which is a good projection. We saw areas like construction, manufacturing, transportation, the highest gain, significant gains in those areas, which is a very good number to see. But clearly, we know that in certain sectors of the economy, as far as people coming back to work, we still have work to do.

BRIAN SOZZI: Mr. Secretary, wage inflation near 5% or 4.8%, to be more exact. Is that a good number to you? Or do you think wage gains are coming on too hard, too fast?

MARTY WALSH: No, I mean, I think wage gains are good. I mean, I'm not going to stand in front of a camera and say that people earning more money is bad. But I certainly think that we're watching the inflation number as well. The president has rolled out a plan to deal with inflation. Secretary Yellen is working, obviously, on inflation.

The president made a move earlier in the week, or maybe last week, about releasing some oil out into the market to bring the prices down. And we've seen in some of the job gains that we've seen, lower wage workers historically in the past, we've seen those workers get more money. And they're actually, in some cases, outpacing inflation. So certainly, this is something that we're watching, keeping a close eye on, and working towards addressing.

BRIAN CHEUNG: Hey, Secretary Walsh, Brian Cheung here. I wanted to ask specifically about the leisure and hospitality space because the shortfall compared to pre-pandemic levels is still over a million payrolls. What does that tell you in terms of policy and making sure that the people who work in America's bars and restaurants can get back to work?

MARTY WALSH: Yeah, you know, that's a number that I'm a little surprised about as well. I think, obviously, that has direct connection to the pandemic and people worried about it. And also, I'm not sure how the hiring is. That number is not where we want it to be. We saw some good growth in the beginning in the spring, if you remember, April, May, and June if I'm correct. We saw some good numbers in the hospitality industry and the bar industry, where people coming back. And this month, we didn't see those same gains. So, certainly, that's an area we're keeping an eye on. And I know that historically-- not historically-- I shouldn't say historically-- but that's been an area of a lot of conversation around wages.

JULIE HYMAN: Now, as I talked about at the beginning, you know, we are seeing this sort of disparate findings from the employment survey and the household survey, Secretary. And I wonder if the Department of Labor and the BLS sort of need to take another look at how that data is collected or if there's any kind of review that you think needs to be done, given that we did see such disparate outcomes in the two surveys.

MARTY WALSH: Well, you know, I just think the whole world is a little upside down right now. And I think that when you think about surveying and reaching out to people, you think-- I mentioned this correlation yesterday-- last month to polling. Everything is different, more challenging right now. And certainly, you know, when we went over the numbers today, the commission was very clear on the numbers. There were some minor adjustments gains.

There was a lot of participation this month in the surveys, which is a good thing. You know, I think the numbers-- that they're going to get the numbers up to, like, 83% of respondents were heading towards that direction. And I think that as we continue to move forward here, looking at these numbers moving forward, I think it's going to be a month by month basis.

JULIE HYMAN: And finally, Secretary, I do want to ask you about the omicron variant. The message from the president has been very clear. He's taking steps, but he's telling people not to panic. There doesn't necessarily seem to be panic, but at the same time, do you expect any kind of psychological effects on hiring, for example, or on people's willingness to go back to work?

MARTY WALSH: Well, I think, you know-- I think there's a lot of psychological effects of the pandemic on a lot of people. And I don't think it's just about the omicron variant. I think it's overall psychological impacts of COVID-19. And I think that we have to address that issue. And I think that-- you know, I've said it as many times as possible when I was the mayor and sometimes here, as Secretary of Labor. To people that are watching, you know, if you feel stressed, you feel concerned, go talk to somebody.

This has been a very difficult time for a lot of people. Families have been concerned about their health. Families have lost loved ones. Families have lost their jobs. There's a lot of uncertainty right now. And I think that, you know, people need to take care of themselves. And I think the psychological impact of the virus, you know, it'll be measured at some point, and some smart person will talk about it, but I definitely think there's an impact of it.

JULIE HYMAN: It's a really good point. Secretary Marty Walsh, Labor Secretary of the United States, thank you so much for joining us. Always good to get your perspective on these numbers.

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