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White House Officials Look Back On 2014

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White House officials recently held a year-end conference call highlighting progress made in the U.S. economy in 2014. They also discussed what they’d like to see accomplished in the new year.

The call recapped a year of continuing economic growth in the U.S., six years after the economic collapse that has served as the backdrop to the administration.

Jeff Zients, Director of the National Economic Council, said over the last two quarters the economy has had the strongest six-month period  in more than a decade, and that over the past calendar year, the U.S. has ADDED? 2.65 million jobs, more jobs than in any period since the 1990s.

Zients said the manufacturing sector is growing faster than others and is contributing to record exports.

“We, right now in 2014, are running at a pace of 15,000 new manufacturing jobs per month, that’s actually double the pace of last year, 2013. And there’s every reason to believe these positive trends will continue.”

Zients said although business confidence is up,  more can be done to keep the economy heading in the right direction.

“We can do that by working with Congress on high-standard trade deals, business tax reform, and using the revenues from business tax reform to pay for infrastructure, which is critical to job growth and critical to our competitiveness, and our future growth.”

Cecila Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, provided an update on strides made in education during 2014, including an executive action to cap student loan repayments at 10 percent of a borrower’s income.

“This year the president took action to ensure that all borrowers have the option to take up these generation terms. This additional executive action on the part of the president made an additional five million federal student loan borrowers eligible to participate in this pay-as-you-earn system.”

Muñoz also said the government is on track to connect 99 percent of students with high-speed broadband.

Labor Secretary Thomas Pérez said the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Oppotunity Act of 2014 will help in training and retraining the nation’s workforce for in-demand jobs.

“In a time when we have over 4.8 million job openings, which is the case right now, we need a workforce system that can work for everybody more than ever.”

The Labor Department this year invested $1 billion in job training including programs for community colleges and high schools, and support for the long-term unemployed. Pérez said a $100 million investment in apprenticeship programs was made to train workers debt-free.

On January 1st, under a new regulation from the Labor Department, home healthcare workers will gain minimum wage and overtime protections. Under an executive order by the president, minimum wage will increase to $10.10 an hour for workers on federal construction projects.

Pérez said in the new year he expects more businesses and states to raise the minimum wage, even after Congress failed to vote on the bill.

“But businesses nationwide, including the GAP, including the Ace Hardware store about a mile from my office, continue to raise their workers’ wages on their own, and this year alone 14 states have increased the minimum wage.”

On a visit to Saratoga Springs, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said in the new year Congress needs to take a serious approach to funding infrastructure projects.

“We have no infrastructure funding for our roads, our highways, our bridges, our tunnels. Here in the Capital Region many of them are 50 to 100 years old. We desperately, desperately need that.”

Schumer also said Congress must past reforms to reduce the interest rate on federal student loans.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.