Jeffrey R. Immelt: General Electric
Jeff Immelt expresses sympathy for Occupy Wall Street protesters. REUTERS

The “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protesters have received sympathy and support from a most unlikely source -- General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) chief executive officer Jeff Immelt.

There is one basic challenge, and that is we have to grow [the economy] faster, he told a Thomson-Reuters press conference in New York. If unemployment comes down people will feel better.

He went on to say: Unemployment is 9.1 percent and underemployment is much higher than that, particularly among young people that don't have a college degree. It is natural to assume people are angry, and so I think we have to be empathetic and understand that people are not feeling great.

Immelt also addressed the topic of the huge wage gap between CEOs and average workers.

I think the discrepancy is certainly one of the problems today in terms of why people feel the system is unfair, he said. So let's be honest about that. It is part of the problem.

But he added that big salaries of top executives are not to be blamed for the jobs crisis.

If CEO pay goes way down and unemployment is 12 percent, people are still going to feel bad, he said.

According to an AFL-CIO report, Immelt made about $15.2 million last year.

Immelt’s supportive words of the OWS movement follow in the wake of similar empathy from other financial titans, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit and Pimco bond fund manager.

Immelt, who is also head of a panel -- the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness -- that advises President Barack Obama on job-creation, said that the economic malaise in the country cannot be solely blamed on either the government or on corporations.

The Council released a report last week suggesting ways to stimulate job growth, including the streamlining of regulations, the encouragement of start-up businesses and new public and private-sector spending on infrastructure projects.

The GE boss said he thinks the panel’s recommendations could help produce “millions of jobs.”

Immelt, a Republican, has earned the wrath of many conservatives over what is perceived to be his too=close relationship with the Obama administration.

In response to such criticism, he said: I'd rather be in the arena trying than not doing what I can to help. We all owe it to the country to be at least part of the debate.

Immelt has been attacked (by both the left and the right) for being a wrong choice to head a jobs panel when his company is among the leaders in outsourcing jobs overseas. In fact according to reports, the US accounted for only 44 percent of the company total workforce in 2009, down from 51 percent in 2005.