U.S. Labor Secretary on April jobs report, stimulus outlook

Yahoo Finance’s Myles Udland, Julie Hyman, Brian Sozzi, and Jessica Smith react to the April Jobs Report with U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: Let's run through the numbers quickly one more time for the folks in the back. 266,000 jobs added last month, short of the million that was estimated by economists. Unemployment ticking up to 6.1%. Average hourly wages also ticking up by 1/3 of 1%. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh joins us now, along with our Jessica Smith in Washington. Secretary, thank you for being here. I just, first of all, got to ask you what your reaction is to these numbers coming in so far short of estimates.

MARTY WALSH: You know, when you look at that, I'm not-- I don't necessarily listen to the estimates. I listen to what the reality is. And the reality situation is that 266,000 jobs under normal circumstances-- and we're certainly not living in normal circumstances-- would be a good month. But when you look at our recovery, our recovery has been strong in the last three months. We've added over 500,000 jobs on average per month. We still have a steep hill to climb. But we are recovering in a strong fashion.

Certain sectors that showed signs today-- the hospitality-- leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, we saw significant gains there. That's exciting. We saw significant gains in-- well, gains in the retail space. And we also saw more people in the month of April looking for work than the previous month. So there is some real positive signs moving here. But obviously, we still have some concerns with our economy. And we're still in the midst of a pandemic.

JULIE HYMAN: You know, Secretary, what do you make of some of the companies out there, or Republicans for that matter, out there saying, some of what's keeping people out of the workforce right now are the stimulus checks, that they are not enticed enough to return to their old jobs or new jobs that don't have that competitive pay.

MARTY WALSH: You know, I think that-- I've heard that a lot this morning. When you think about it, we still have millions of Americans out of work. Those millions of Americans, many of them would prefer to be working in a job than collecting unemployment because the unemployment is a short-term benefit that's going to run out, where these people would like to get into their-- get back to their careers, get back to their jobs, find new opportunities, new careers.

There's just too many people out of work to say that with. You know, we don't have 8, 9 million Americans saying, well, I'm going to collect unemployment. I don't want to go to work. That's just not the case. So I do think as we continue to see these different sectors rebound and recover, more and more people are going to get back into the workforce, hopefully. And more and more opportunities will be created for them to get back into the workforce.

JESSICA SMITH: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Jessica Smith here. We are seeing a couple of states start to drop out-- drop those enhanced federal benefits. Are you concerned about what might happen if other states start to do that? Do you think that is premature?

MARTY WALSH: You know, I think states are in different situations. In Montana, the unemployment rate's roughly 3 and 1/2%. So the unemployment is significantly lower than what the national average is. And I think that there is certain areas that seem to be rebounding or doing better, less virus infection, and everything's opening quicker. So, again, you can't compare each state to each state. You have to take it one at a time.

And there are some places where unemployment is higher. We have significant-- the number today, one of the numbers that concerns me today, obviously, is the communities of color, the Black community. The unemployment is 9.7%. Women still are not coming back into the workforce, the numbers that we need people to come back-- women to come back on the workforce. So some of those areas that people live in a lot of urban area, we're going to see higher unemployment numbers. So we're going to need those benefits, those UI benefits, so families can survive and keep food on the table. And that's the reality of the situation.

We also have people, in my opinion, that aren't going back into the workforce because they don't have adequate childcare. Schools are still much hybrid around the country. So there's still-- and people still have fears of the virus. The virus is still very much with us. So we still have a ways to go. But I think as we move through the next few months here, hopefully, we can continue to stay ahead of the virus, continue to beat back the virus, more people get vaccinated. And we can continue to see our economy open up in a big way. As far as people--

JESSICA SMITH: We're also starting--

MARTY WALSH: --going back to work, I should say.

JESSICA SMITH: And we're also starting to hear from more Republicans re-upping the call for a back to work bonus, maybe phasing out the enhanced UI and going to that back to work bonus. What do you think of that proposal?

MARTY WALSH: You know, I think every proposal should be looked at and talked about. I think that we should spend some time-- and I've heard some this morning. Different people gave me different ideas and proposals. And I'm going to take it back and talk about them to say, we should look at it and make sure that is there are opportunities for us to do something outside the box? Again, we're dealing with a pandemic that this country hasn't dealt with for 100 years.

And in your previous segment, you were talking about the pandemic, the effect it's having on the stock market, the effect it's having on the economy, the effects it's having on life. And that's very much still with us today. So, you know, nobody today has ever come out of a pandemic. And there's no playbook to come out of a pandemic. So as we think about it, we should be open to all different ideas.

BRIAN SOZZI: Mr. Secretary, you recently told Reuters, you're in favor of classifying gig workers as employees. What's the timeline on that happening? And how would you implement it in light of Prop 22 passing?

MARTY WALSH: Well, you know, I think that what-- I wouldn't want to say I was misquoted in that article. But what I said in that article was kind of taken a little far. But what I meant to say is that, you know, employees deserve good pay, good benefits, and opportunities for healthcare, unemployment, and all the rest. And I think that we will have many conversations about different economies in our country. Those economies are hurting as well.

I mean, so when you think about those different industries that we're talking about that I won't mention, but they're out there, they're hurting as well. So when we think about the recovery, we have to think about how do we come back stronger, and how do we make sure that we have good strong protections in there for our workers as well as we come out of this pandemic.

JULIE HYMAN: You know, Secretary-- it's Julie here again. You were talking about all the different reasons that people still have not returned to the workforce, from not feeling safe to childcare issues, et cetera. In the various plans that the administration has introduced, the Families Plan, some of the other initiatives, what do you think is going to be the most key for them to get through in order to then support workers, get them back to work, or get them into better jobs, for example?

MARTY WALSH: Well, I think one of the things the president released the other day from the American Rescue Plan some money that went into childcare, I think that that's going to be crucial to moving forward. And I also think in-person learning in our public school systems. I think that's going to be key in September. Some of these folks that that have not come back into the workforce yet, their company or their restaurant or wherever they worked is no longer around. So, again, it's about training as well.

So I think there's a series of investments that need to be put out there in America so that we can get people back into the workforce. I think that, you know, the president did address it, I want to say it was about three weeks ago. He put-- I think it was about $30 billion that he put into the childcare industry to make sure that-- because that's been a big issue. So we just need to continue to see what the barriers are.

And instead of-- I mean, I don't think the barrier to employment is unemployment insurance. I think the barrier to work is whether it's childcare, whether it's fear of not being vaccinated, fear of the virus, your business being gone. Those are the issues that we have to address, not talk about cutting a benefit for people that are unemployed.

JULIE HYMAN: So, for example, if the president is not successful in getting some of his childcare support through-- because it looks like there's going to be resistance from Republicans. So let's take the other side of that. How much is that going to hold back the recovery of the job market if it doesn't get through?

MARTY WALSH: Well, yeah, sorry, maybe I misunderstood the question. So when I think about moving forward, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan is a forward-looking plan. It is about not necessarily about the recovery. It's about how do we recover after the pandemic as we get through the pandemic. How do we make investments, long-term investments in this country? Many of those investments are eight-year investments, whether it's infrastructure, broadband, clean water, cares economy, workforce development job training. It's a forward-looking plan.

The American Rescue Plan was a plan that actually dealt with the pandemic and how do we get out of the pandemic. It was job training, short-term. It was UI reform, $2 billion in that. It was also money for the cares economy as well on that. So I think when we-- when I view these plans, I think about now, how do I stand here every-- the first Friday of every month and hopefully report to you and the American people that more and more Americans are going to work every day? And the American Rescue-- the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan is about, how do we get people that are going back to work now today into the middle class?

JESSICA SMITH: The president has also called for more UI reform in the American Families Plan, including, potentially, automatic triggers. What would you want that reform to look like? Would it be something like Senator Wyden is proposing to tie those enhanced benefits to the unemployment rate?

MARTY WALSH: You know, the president specifically put $2 billion in the American Rescue Plan for this reason to look at UI reform. And what we're doing now at the Department of Labor-- and we're working across the agency-- is we're looking, how do we best spend the money and make the best investment so the situations that we experienced this past year with UI systems that we don't experience them in the future?

Some of it is going to be technical support. Some is going to be infrastructure. And I think, again, I'm open to any idea the senator has or anybody has on how do we look at the system. Not necessarily reforming the system, I would say more fixing the system and strengthening the system.

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