TOPICS > Economy

Weak Job Numbers Put Recovery in Doubt

July 6, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Employers added just 80,000 jobs in June, well below the numbers some economists had predicted and a clear sign the economic recovery is still faltering. Ray Suarez speaks with supporters of both presidential campaigns to hear why they believe the disappointing numbers mean their man is the best choice to fix the problem.

RAY SUAREZ: For the third straight month, job growth fell short of expectations, calling into question what can be done to jump-start the economy.

The weak numbers were yet another sign the recovery may be stalling. Employers added just 80,000 jobs in June, below the 90,000 to 100,000 economists had predicted. That leaves the three-month average at just 75,000 jobs per month, a third the pace of this year’s first quarter. The unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.2 percent.

This morning, Mitt Romney took a break from his vacation in Wolfeboro, N.H., to say President Obama has had his chance.

MITT ROMNEY (R): In the case of President Obama, this is not a monthly statistic or even a half-yearly statistic. We have looked at now almost four years of policies that haven’t gotten America working again.

This is the time for Americans to choose whether they want more of the same, whether unemployment above 8 percent month after month after month is satisfactory or not. It doesn’t have to be this way. America can do better. And this kick in the gut has got to end.

RAY SUAREZ: An hour later, the president at a stop in Poland, Ohio, while on a two-day bus tour attempted to make the most of the weak report.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months, including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs.


BARACK OBAMA: That’s a step in the right direction. That’s a step in the right direction.


BARACK OBAMA: But we can’t be satisfied, because our goal was never to just keep on working to get back to where we were back in 2007. I want to get back to a time when middle-class families and those working to get into the middle class have some basic security. That’s our goal.

RAY SUAREZ: The president said the below-expectations numbers are evidence that Congress needs to act.

The jobs report did show some gains. Those came in increased demand for temporary workers, as well as in the fields of health care and manufacturing. The number of long-term unemployed, those seeking work for more than 27 weeks, stayed steady at May’s count of 5.4 million.

The jobs report sent Wall Street reeling. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 124 points to close at 12,772. The Nasdaq fell nearly 39 points to close at 2,937. For the week, the Dow fell 0.8 percent; the Nasdaq ended up less than 0.1 percent.

For more reaction to the jobs report, we turn to Lanhee Chen, policy director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Welcome to the program.

The Obama administration pointed out that businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs, including 500,000 in manufacturing alone, over the past two-plus years. They called it a step in the right direction. What’s the reaction from the Romney campaign?

LANHEE CHEN, policy director, Mitt Romney Campaign: Well, Ray, thanks for having me on.

I think that that reaction is remarkably devoid from reality. This is a disappointing jobs report. There are still over 23 million Americans who are struggling for work. This report signals some real weakness in the economy. And it signals the need for fundamental change to get this economy growing again, to get the recovery truly jump-started, and to get the jobs created that so many Americans still desperately need.

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier today, Governor Romney said the president should have done better and that he would do better. How? What would a president Romney do to get companies and individuals to hire more people?

LANHEE CHEN: Well, it starts with policies oriented toward economic growth, policies that would remove a lot of the policy uncertainty that there is right now.

Honestly, Ray, the problem is a lot of job creators don’t know what the environment is going to look like, what the policy environment is going to look like. And this president hasn’t given them the certainty they need to create jobs and to grow their businesses.

So it starts with things like ensuring we have a cheap and reliable supply of domestic energy, building the Keystone XL pipeline. It starts with expanding our trading relationships abroad and cracking down on cheaters like China that don’t play by the rules. It starts with returning some balance to the relationship between labor and management.

And it starts by reducing tax burdens on small businesses and large businesses alike. There are a number of different changes that can restore certainty and get entrepreneurs and job creators going again. Unfortunately, this president has done none of those things.

RAY SUAREZ: Isn’t there a lot a president can’t control? During months of strong job growth in the past two years, shocks have come from outside the U.S., jitters over the Arab spring, the shock of the possibility of the collapse of the euro. Aren’t there external forces that are beyond the reach of an American president?

LANHEE CHEN: Of course there are some factors that are beyond the control and reach of any administration.

But you have to look at those policies and features that are within reach of this administration. And instead of focusing on job creation and growing the economy, this administration chose to focus on Obamacare, which is a job-killing piece of legislation that will continue to harm the economy. They focus on Dodd-Frank, which is choking off the ability of small banks to lend the capital to small businesses that are needed to get the economy going.

They focused on cap and trade and the NLRB cracking down on Boeing. There are a lot of things an administration can control, and those are the things that Mitt Romney will focus on to get this economy going again if he is elected president.

RAY SUAREZ: When Gov. Romney was in office in Massachusetts, did his universal care plan cut off job creation in his state? Because the president noted today, the guy I’m running this tried this in Massachusetts, and it’s working just fine, even though he denies it.

LANHEE CHEN: Obamacare is very different from the approach that Mitt Romney pursued.

Mitt Romney didn’t raise taxes. Obamacare raises over 20 separate taxes by some accounts. Mitt Romney didn’t impose a “one size fits all” federal mandate, as Obamacare does. Mitt Romney didn’t dramatically increase spending. Obamacare calls for $2 trillion in new spending.

The two programs are different. Mitt Romney put in place a program to be expand access to affordable health insurance for the citizens of Massachusetts. It was tailored for the needs of his state and was very different from what the president pursued at the federal level.

RAY SUAREZ: And has anyone in the Obama administration said the words cap and trade in years? You cite that as something that’s creating uncertainty. It hasn’t been mentioned that I have seen in the news any time recently.

LANHEE CHEN: Well, Ray, the fact that it hasn’t been mentioned as a specific piece of legislation doesn’t mean, first of all, the administration hasn’t pursued it administratively through the EPA.

And, second of all, the specter that the administration could pursue cap and trade legislation, as they attempted to do during the first two years of the president’s term, creates the kind of uncertainty that job creators don’t need. We don’t need job-killing legislation or even any kind of overtures towards job-killing legislation at a time when the economy and this recovery are fragile, at best.

RAY SUAREZ: Gov. Romney during the campaign has cited the need to shrink the size of the government’s payroll at all levels, state, federal and local.

That has been something that’s been pulling down job creation numbers, even as there’s been, in some months, quite robust private sector hiring. The public sector has been shedding jobs in a tremendous rate in some places.

LANHEE CHEN: Well, the only way to create a sustainable, long-term economic recovery is to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to have robust job growth in the private sector.

And, unfortunately, that is something that President Obama and his administration just hasn’t focused on. And for this economy to really be healthy, for this recovery to really be one that creates the jobs that so many Americans need, we have got to do more to ensure the private sector is creating jobs.

The private sector is not doing fine, as President Obama said last month. What needs to happen is, as I said earlier, policies that are such that Mitt Romney will put in place beginning on day one to really get the private sector going again, because ultimately that will be the basis of a burgeoning middle class and a growing economy.

RAY SUAREZ: Lanhee Chen is a policy director for the Romney campaign.

Thanks for joining us.

LANHEE CHEN: Thank you, Ray. Appreciate it.

RAY SUAREZ: And we get a different take now from Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. From 2009 to 2011, he was an economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

And you heard Lanhee Chen say that the president’s suggestion that the economy is making a step in the right direction is, in his words, remarkably devoid of reality.

What’s your reaction?

JARED BERNSTEIN, former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden: Well, that is the reality. It’s just too small a step.

It is a mistake, I think, as many in the Romney camp have implied today, to suggest that somehow we’re losing jobs or the economy is in a recession. It’s not. In fact, the economy left recession in GDP terms at the second half of 2009 a lot more quickly than any economists thought they would, given how badly things were cratering back then.

And a lot of that has the president’s policies on it. The problem is not that we are not adding jobs. The problems are twofold. One, we are not adding them quickly enough in the private sector. They are growing, but not quickly enough, as you said, 75,000 per month on average over the last quarter, over four million since employment began to grow.

And then there’s the public sector problem, which you also touched on. We have been shedding jobs in that part of the economy consistently now month in and month out.

RAY SUAREZ: But we’re now several years deep into a recovery. Shouldn’t the economy be doing better? And isn’t it tough to run for president when it’s not, when new jobs are coming on-stream at a rate about half of what we need just to accommodate new workers?

JARED BERNSTEIN: Well, look, the answer to the second part of your question, is it tough for a president to run in that kind of a climate, sure it is.

But should the economy be doing better? Well, I think to answer that, Ray, you have to think about just how damaged the economy was when President Obama got here. Now, in the politics, in kind of the hurly-burly of the campaign, this becomes a defensive posture to say look back at how bad things were.

But, as an economist, I can tell you I had never seen anything like it. GDP was hemorrhaging at a 9 percent rate a quarter before the president took office, crashing it at 9 percent. We lost over two million jobs in the first quarter.

So what the measures that the president took did was to break the back of that great recession a lot sooner than otherwise would have occurred. The economy began to expand., And starting in the spring of 2010, we began to get job growth. And the private sector has consistently, too slowly, but consistently, been adding jobs since then.

If you look at the autos, manufacturing, the president made that point today. We’re actually doing better in that sector than anyone had a right to expect, given how damaged things were. So should the economy be doing better? It would be great if it were. But I think, realistically, given where we were and given the political gridlock this president has faced, it is a tough call.

RAY SUAREZ: But given all of these things that you just said, he’s got to make the case that the next four years would be materially different from the last three. And is he making that case? Can he say that, yes, if you choose me again, it’s going to be very different from the way it is now, when I’m already president?

JARED BERNSTEIN: I think he does have to make that case. And I think he can. But he can’t do it alone.

One of the things the president said today in a speech he gave in Ohio struck me. He said, we have got good answers, but we’re facing a stalemate in Congress.

Even right now, as we speak, there are good ideas that would help offset, for example, that public sector job contraction — 14,000 jobs last month in June, educators lost their jobs at the local level. OK? A lot of those folks are teachers. And when people show up for their classrooms next year, those classrooms are going to be too big in many cases.

This is a problem we could fix. Borrowing costs are very low. These are plans that the president and his team have put together. But because of congressional gridlock blocking, some of whom are saying, look, our main goal right now is to get the president out of office, not to address the economic problems, they’re not cooperating.

But I think — I think, with his ideas on clean energy, with his ideas on near-term job creation, with his manufacturing ideas, yes, absolutely.

RAY SUAREZ: Democratic critics were very tough on George W. Bush in the months following the recovery that began after 9/11, too few jobs, recovery too slow, job creation too shallow.

Are we in a different economic world now? Isn’t it just as fair a criticism of Barack Obama as it was of George W. Bush in the early part of this century?

JARED BERNSTEIN: I think the difference there is that the — it’s what I was just talking about.

I mean, it’s one thing for a president to not have a set of plans to get you from here to there. And here, I thought Mr. Chen’s discussion a second OK ago very misleading. I don’t think Gov. Romney has any convincing plans vis-a-vis job growth. And I can through that with you in a second.

I think the thing the president can say that is different is that I, in fact, have a set of measures that independent people — you don’t have to listen to me. You can listen the Congressional Budget Office. You can listen to independent economists who have scored this — are saying, yes — and it’s actually not that complicated.

If you provide some fiscal relief to states who have to balance their budgets, who are facing budget shortfalls in the tens of billions, if you provide them some relief, they will stop laying off teachers. If you get some workers back on the job laying infrastructure, whether it’s public schools — lately, I have been thinking we probably should bury some of these power lines.

So there’s a lot to be done. He has got the plans.

RAY SUAREZ: And we will, over the course of the rest of the campaign, hear them point by point.

Jared Bernstein, thanks for joining us.

JARED BERNSTEIN: My pleasure, Ray.