Issues

Labor Secretary: America Is Approaching Full Employment

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said on Friday that the United States is getting close to full employment.

Perez was asked on CNBC how he felt about the recently released jobs numbers, which showed the unemployment rate held steady at 4.9 percent from July to August while 94,391,000 Americans are not participating in the labor force.

"Well, when you are getting close to the summit of the mountain of full employment, the rate of the unemployment rate going down is not going to go as fast," Perez said. "I mean, our unemployment rate a year ago was 5.1 percent. The unemployment rate two years ago was 6.2 percent. It was easier to get from 6.2 to 5.1 than it is to get from 5.1 to 4.9, and it’s going to continue to go down at a slow but steady clip."

Perez quickly tried to qualify his assessment of approaching full employment.

"We still have slack in this economy, and what we’re seeing now that we didn’t see two or three years ago is, again, the page of wage growth picking up and that’s the tradeoff that you see when you get closer to that summit of full employment," Perez said. "We’re not near that yet. I still think there’s slack in this economy. I still think we can do more."

Perez did not note in his assessment of the unemployment rate that the so-called "real unemployment rate," defined by CNBC as "all unemployed, plus ‘persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the labor force,’" stayed at 9.7 percent in August.