The U.S. economy has turned the corner, with sustainable growth in business activity and jobs, said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.
"We're getting some benefit now from oil prices in terms of the economy getting a bit of a boost on top of that. So I'm feeling pretty confident that we're looking at a good period ahead," Lew said in an exclusive interview that aired on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday.
One area where Lew would like to see further increases is in wages, despite a 12 cents an hour move higher in January's better-than-expected employment report—that represented the largest monthly gain in the economic recovery and an annualized growth rate of 2.2 percent. "We need more wage growth that people can really feel," he said.
Strong upward revisions in November and December pushed average job creation to 336,000 for the past three months, according to Friday's report from the U.S. Labor Department.
Overall economic activity has not been as robust. Growth estimates for the first quarter were converging around a 2.5 percent pace after the Commerce Department reported last month a weaker-than-expected 2.6 percent growth rate for the fourth quarter.
But Lew remained optimistic: "We're seeing a comeback in manufacturing, now we're seeing housing and construction come back. And we've seen the deficit go way down, all at a time when we have people who are now finding the security of having health care coverage that they didn't have before."
Lew also brushed off Republican critics who said President Barack Obama's near $4 trillion budget, which included a proposal for an increase in capital gains and dividend taxes from the current 23.8 percent, would hurt growth. "The 28 percent capital gains rate was the rate that was in effect when President Reagan was in office, and the economy did just fine at that time with that rate," he said.