U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis speaks on October 20, 2011 in Washington, DC.  Today's unemployment report shows the U.S. economy is slowly recovering.
U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis speaks on October 20, 2011 in Washington, DC. Today's unemployment report shows the U.S. economy is slowly recovering. - 

Steve Chiotakis: The nation's economy created 200,000 jobs last month. And the jobless rate improved to 8.5 percent, down from the previous month. That rate is down by almost an entire percent from a year ago, to its lowest level in nearly 3 years. Healthcare, the restaurant and service industry, and manufacturing sectors all saw job gains for the period.

Hilda Solis is the U.S. Labor Secretary. She's with us now from Washington. Madame Secretary, thanks for being with us.

Hilda Solis: Thank you very much.

Chiotakis: I know we've heard so much about the long-term unemployed, and people who have dropped off the rolls. For those people looking at these numbers today -- and they are pretty impressive numbers -- is it time to jump back into the market?

Solis: I think that people are coming back and looking for work, and that's why you saw the lowering of the unemployment rate. We saw a large number of private sector jobs created, and if you look over a four month period, on the average you see more than 170,000 jobs created just in the last four months each month.

And that's good, but overall, last year -- I'm not sure people really understand this, but 2 million private sector jobs were created.

Chiotakis: How do you guys keep the momentum up? I mean, these jobs are being created in the private sector, right?

Solis: Absolutely. And I am still concerned, though, that we saw a continued -- you know, smaller cut though, however a cut -- in local government, with respect to firefighters, public sector workers and especially teachers. We still have unfinished business.

We still have a lot of people that are unemployed. We need to make sure that we get the politics out of this, because we saw this last year in June when we started the debt-ceiling debate, that really put a damper on confidence. Consumers, markets -- everyone was affected. And when we got through that, you could see that momentum picking up in the last four months of the year.

Chiotakis: I want to talk about the jobs we are creating, Madame Secretary. Are these good jobs -- high wage jobs with good benefits, jobs that utilize a worker's education, for example?

Solis: I would say yes to all of that, and in fact what we saw is continued growth in the private sector in education, in health services, retail trade, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing.

Chiotakis: But there's a lot of folks who are still underemployed, or working a couple of jobs. Obviously, there's a lot of room for improvement, right?

Solis: Yes, yes, absolutely. And we know that we still have to be concerned with those people who have been out of work for more than six months. And that's why the president is asking his agencies, he's asking us at the department to re-tool ourselves, so that we really help those people that are underemployed and unemployed better utilize some of the services that we have: connecting ourselves with community colleges, with workforce training programs. Making sure that people are getting a heads up and getting that additional certificate or credential that will make them more competitive.

Chiotakis: We seem to be rolling a little bit now, but happens when something unforeseen -- or foreseen -- happens down the road, like the eurozone, if it collapses? Or some other major economic event happens like that?

Solis: Those things, I'm sure, will work themselves out, just as we had to go through and make some corrections on our own economy, and the president did that, Europe has to do that. So we need to just be prepared. And right now, those headwinds in Europe aren't affecting us, but right now I think the name of the game is that businesses are making investments, and they are feeling more confident. And you saw it in this December report, and in the last four months of the last year.

Chiotakis: Hilda Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Thank you so much for being with us.

Solis: Thank you and happy New Year.

For more from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, tune in to our Mid-day Update podcast.

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