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U.S. economy needs stronger wage growth, Lew says

"No one would have believed you," U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew tells "CBS This Morning" anchor Norah O'Donnell, if you had predicted 5.1% unemployment and 13 million jobs created
"No one would have believed you," U.S. Treasu... 03:06

The U.S. economy is seeing "sustained, stable" growth, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said in an interview with CBS News, while noting that these gains must be "spread more fairly" among Americans.

"You look at where we were eight years ago, and if anyone would have predicted that [the economy] would be approaching 5 percent unemployment, with 13-plus million new jobs created, no one would have believed you eight years ago if you said that's what you were going to do," he said.

In a nod to what experts agree is a growing gap between rich and poor, Lew said that workers need to see stronger wage growth for the economy to flourish.

"We need to make sure that we're not leaving behind the real engines of growth -- the people who work in the U.S. economy," he added.

But Lew also emphasized what he characterized as the economy's resiliency, contrasting it with other major economies around the world that are struggling to grow.

"I think there's no question when you look at the global economy right now, the U.S. is seen as one of the real foundations of stability," he said. "And I think it's really quite striking, you know, eight years ago, seven years ago, even four or three years ago, the question was, 'How can the US be the center of the global financial crisis'?"

The U.S. posted gross domestic product of 3.7 percent between April and June, the strongest rate of growth since mid-2014. Job-creation has also been steady, pushing the nation's unemployment rate down to 5.1 percent, a seven-year low.

Another engine of U.S. and global growth -- China -- is misfiring. The country's economic slowdown this year, which has raised concerns about global growth and roiled financial markets, is certain to be a key talking point when President Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a White House state dinner in Washington on Friday.

Lew told CBS News that he expects China's economy to bounce back, while reiterating the Obama administration's position that the People's Republic must continue shifting its economy toward consumer spending and opening to foreign investment.

Another risk for the U.S. economy is the threat of a government shutdown, as Congress debates a spending bill that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Lew said it would be a "terrible mistake" for lawmakers to shutter government agencies.

"It is important that [congressional] leaders understand how bad it is to cause that kind of needless damage," said Lew, adding that he "takes encouragement" from top officials in both parties saying they see no reason for a shutdown.

"You know, you look at the stability of the U.S. economy -- it's easy to kind of have questions start creeping back in," he said. "Government shutdowns, debt limit crises -- these kinds of things don't instill confidence. Economies are built on confidence. So I think Congress really has to buckle down, do its job, and it's not rocket science. Democrats or Republicans have to talk to each other."

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