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Jack Lew: 'We have a lot of work to do' on economy

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told CNBC on Wednesday that the U.S. is leading the global economic recovery, despite having "a lot of work to do" by our own country's standards.

"If you go to Main Street America and ask people if they've been made whole from the financial crisis, I doubt a lot of people would tell you they've been made whole," Lew said on "Squawk Box."

Two days before the world's financial elite gathers in Washington for an International Monetary Fund meeting, Lew said kick-starting economic growth remains his top priority in his dealings with foreign finance ministers. It's also a priority on the home front, he added, arguing that job training and infrastructure programs proposed by the White House will stimulate demand.

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Lew said he expects infrastructure projects, such as a new federal highway bill, to gain bipartisan support even in a midterm election year. And as Wall Street deals with the prospect of higher interest rates and this winter's economic downturn, Lew said a U.S. economy stuck under 3-percent GDP growth for 2014 still looks like progress.

"We're doing our part," Lew said. "We made tough decisions six years ago, and we stuck with them. We have our economy growing. We reformed our financial system. We have our fiscal house in a much better place."

Lew said some industries are still lagging. Sectors such as home construction usually contribute to economic recovery, but they have stumbled but still have the potential to give the economy a much-needed boost, he said.

"We have to remember we've come a long way," Lew said. "We've made a lot of progress. We came from a bad place."

Lew also encouraged "surplus countries" such as Germany to do more to stimulate growth. He said Europe and the rest of the world have a "demand problem."

"The risk of low demand and the risk of inflation is something they need to be alert to," Lew said.

As concern grows over whether the U.S. economy can withstand a pullback from the Federal Reserve's easy money policies, the nation also faces several rising geopolitical issues.

Asked about concerns over China devaluing its currency to gain a competitive trade advantage against the U.S., Lew said he's been lobbying Chinese leaders and banks to reverse course. He wants them to get back on track toward a market-based exchange rate.

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"If they want the renminbi to be a world currency some day, if they want it to be a reserve currency some day, they need to demonstrate that," Lew said. "From our perspective, it is something that is very important in preserving a level playing field for trade in the world."

The U.S. has also traded economic sanctions with Russia over its annexation of Crimea. Last month, Lew said the sanctions issued by President Barack Obama "had real consequences," responding to criticisms that the sanctions were not strict enough. He reiterated his stance Wednesday, and said the executive order that issued those sanctions left room for more punitive measures.

"There should be no illusion that we've done everything we could do," Lew said. "We put in place a blueprint that makes clear that there's quite a bit more we could do."

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Lew, 58, was sworn into office in February 2013 after a stint as Obama's chief of staff.

—By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen. Reuters contributed to this report.

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