"When I hear people on Capitol Hill say the long-term unemployed are unemployed by choice, I wanna punch 'em," said Perez, jokingly.
According to the Huffington Post, the press conference was held by the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to address the best way to proliferate data on the economy and whether the cause for recent numbers indicating a trend in workers dropping out of the labor force is due to a generation of boomers reaching retirement age or because unemployed workers have given up on looking for work and opted not to participate in the labor market.
"The thing they say that angers them as much as anything is when politicians suggest they're unemployed by choice, they're just sitting at home eating bonbons," Perez said.
Perez, who stressed his strong empathy for the jobless in remembering hardship from his childhood in Buffalo, New York, watching his father struggle after being laid off, emphasized that it's important not to rely entirely on the data, but instead to remember that each number is representative of a personal narrative of struggle.
"I talk to long-term unemployed folks with regularity. We make a habit of doing focus groups because I'm a firm believer that if you just sit here and talk in the numbers, you get numb," he said. "These stories just keep me up at night, especially the long-term unemployed."
Perez has been a continued advocate for the unemployed, consistently urging Congress to bring back extended unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed after legislators allowed those benefits to lapse at the end of last year.