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Treasury Secretary Lew says economy gaining traction but still facing major challenges

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WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Wednesday that the economy should grow at much stronger rates the rest of this year as the country overcomes the impact of a harsh winter. But Lew said millions of Americans continue to struggle as unemployment remains too high and economic growth is too slow.

"Evidence continues to mount that our economy is gaining traction," Lew said in a speech to the Economic Club of New York. "Nevertheless, we cannot escape the fact that millions of Americans continue to struggle and their pain reminds us that our work is not finished. ... For too many families this hardly feels like a recovery."

In his remarks, which were distributed in Washington, Lew called for actions by the government and the private sector to boost hiring of the long-term unemployed and increase investment in productivity-enhancing equipment and critical infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and ports.

Lew said the country also needed a stronger commitment to education in the areas of science, math and engineering to make sure students have the skills they need to compete in the new economy.

Lew said that from 1948 to 2007, the economy grew at average annual rates of 3.4 per cent per year. But he said the Congressional Budget Office is now projecting that after the economy returns to full employment, economic growth will only average about 2.1 per cent per year — just two-thirds of the average right after World War II.

"The choices we make over the years to come can alter this projection," Lew said, suggesting increased investments would boost economic growth and productivity.

Lew's suggestions reflected many proposals that the Obama administration has put forward but which Congress has yet to enact. Among the areas Lew stressed:

__Worker training. Lew said the country needs to do a better job of helping workers laid off during the Great Recession to re-enter the workforce through improved worker training, career counselling and job training. Lew called on businesses to make a good-faith effort to hire from the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

__Investment. Lew said American businesses were sitting on historically high levels of cash and what is needed is for those businesses to come off the sidelines and make investments. Lew said the administration is seeking to reform the tax system to lower business tax rates to boost investment.

__Innovation and Productivity. Lew said the country must commit to improving education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math as well as providing support to cutting edge research and development to maintain America's position as a leading global innovator.

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