At the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce this week, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez kicked off a cross-country, pre-Labor Day tour to champion higher minimum wages, higher-wage jobs and other causes in talks with employers, workers and local leaders.
Perez told the chamber audience at a luncheon Monday that the nation faced two major challenges -- a stagnation in wage growth and the increase in long-term unemployed workers. He also noted the decline in the unemployment rate and improving prospects for skilled manufacturing.
Before taking his post a year ago, Perez was the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, where he led investigations into the death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and alleged police misconduct in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
He also spoke with Times reporters and editors. Here is an edited version of that interview:
Why is there so much attention on pay for entry-level jobs as opposed to moving workers into better jobs?
All of the billion dollars we’ve been giving out is designed to strengthen the ladders of opportunity to the middle class. The CareerConnect grant is all about training people in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields so people don’t graduate from high school and go right to fast food.
They go out of high school with the skills that enable...