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The economy is really strong, especially 'for real people': WorkingNation President

Jane Oates, WorkingNation president and former Labor Department assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration, joins Yahoo Finance Live to weigh in on the July jobs report and what it says about the U.S. economy.

Video Transcript

- Employers adding 520,000 jobs in July, more than double what economists were expecting, bringing employment back to prepandemic levels. Here with more on this is Jane Oates, WorkingNation President and former Labor Department Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration.

Jane, it's great to have you. First, just your reaction to those headline numbers that we got this morning, 528,000 jobs, labor market obviously very resilient, the unemployment rate falling just a bit to 3 and 1/2 percent. What's your big takeaway from what we learned this morning?

JANE OATS: You know, first of all, you have to be excited. You have to celebrate this because not only was the top number great, but there was growth in every single sector, including leisure and hospitality, which has had all of us a little nervous, still down 1.2 million jobs from prepandemic, but boy, a great robust day for everybody today.

- So what do you make of this strange dynamic that is developing in the economy between the sentiment on one side and all the recessionary fears, all the recessionary talk, all the layoffs, and this robust job growth? How do you explain it?

JANE OATS: You know, I think the reality is that for real people, the economy's really strong, except for inflation. We all look at rising gas, the gas prices, hopefully coming down now and the rising food prices. But the reality is year over year, workers' wages are up 5%. That's amazing. That's after so many years of stagnation. So I think people are confused. Economists are having these high level conversations. But for real people, they're getting better jobs, they're making more money, and their life is better.

- Jane, women were leading the gains this month. 327,000 jobs were employed by women in just the month of July alone. We compare that to what we've seen over the last 2 and 1/2 years. It's very different. At this point, is it fair to say that she-cession, what we loved to call it during the pandemic, is the she-cession over?

JANE OATS: Well, we never want to get too far ahead of it because we still have a lot of women sitting on the sidelines and not coming back to work. But I think it was really another very positive month for women. And it looks like early indications are they're coming back to all kinds of jobs. We're not seeing that occupational segregation that we've seen in the past, where women only go into a few fields.

So I'm feeling really optimistic. And I think it's a message for the women who are still sitting on the sidelines. COVID looks like it's much better and under control. It looks like schools are going to be much more reliable this fall. This is the time for them to jump back in, come back to work. The opportunities are there. And I hope they take advantage of them.

- Man, down 170K, rough month. So how do you explain to the layperson that watches all these economists on television who say the labor market has to worsen for us to bring down inflation? And again, we're talking about people outside of Wall Street that say, why do we have to lose jobs in this economy? Why does the labor market have to continue to worsen?

JANE OATS: Yeah, they don't believe it. You know, it may be fine for an Economics 101 or 201 textbook. But real people see their communities thriving when jobs are growing, when manufacturing plants are reopening, when retailers are reopening. They see that as positive. So I think they're ignoring the chatter.

I mean, I think most of the people who are talking about the doom and gloom-- is there going to be a recession again? Absolutely, there is. But nobody knows when. And I think for right now, people are really riding the wave of what I was talking about before, more quality jobs and better wages.

- Jane, what about the labor shortage? Because yes, people are still hiring at this point. We certainly have not seen that slowdown that we've been talking about, that we have been expecting, at least, over the last couple of months. Employers can't find the workers that they need. How much of this is attributed to a skills gap? And I guess what's needed in order to bridge that gap?

JANE OATS: So absolutely. I mean, we cannot rebuild an economy that's as vibrant as we'd like it to be with 61% labor market participation rate. We need everybody to get back in. And Seana, you're so right when you talk about the skills gap. I mean, people are-- some of these job titles are brand new to people. They hear things like cybersecurity or engineering, and they think, oh, wait a minute, I can't do that. I don't have time to stop out and take a four-year degree.

What they have to do is really educate themselves. There are great entry-level jobs with a certificate or a two-year degree where they can get into the money with cybersecurity and engineering technicians and really then get their employer to pay for their bachelor's degree, whether they're 18 or 38 or 58.

- Where are those jobs most available?

JANE OATS: Boy, they're everywhere. They're really everywhere. Cybersecurity jobs are probably in every niche of this country. And engineering jobs, people don't realize-- they think of engineers as maybe making bridges or doing highway repairs.

But engineers are everywhere. You have bioengineering. You have mechanical engineering, chemical engineering. And now with this new rush of money out from the Department of Commerce in the Good Jobs Quality Challenge, we're going to see lots of money on the street for training, as well as for employers to figure out how to skill up their incumbent workers for some of those needs.

- Jane Oates, it's really great to have you here, excellent stuff. Have a good weekend, WorkingNation President.

JANE OATS: Thanks for having me.

- You bet, anytime.