Jobs Creation, Economy In The Spotlight

President Obama is scheduled to deliver a long-awaited speech on jobs this week, as polls are showing huge voter disillusionment with government. As well, the lack of confidence is making economic recovery efforts that much more difficult.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, as Peter just noted, President Obama is scheduled to deliver a long-awaited speech on jobs this week, and we're going to discuss that along with other news with NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Monday mornings. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi Steve, Happy Labor Day.

INSKEEP: Oh, thank you, thank you, glad to be laboring here on this Labor Day.

ROBERTS: Right.

INSKEEP: Boy, the president's friends are looking forward to this speech on Thursday and saying he'd really better do something big, but of course he's addressing a Congress with which he can't even necessarily agree on the date for the speech.

ROBERTS: That's right, and it really is very hard to see what the president could say that convinces Congress and the voters that he has answers to the unemployment problem. You know, right now he is facing a huge problem, which is that voters are so disillusioned with government that they pretty much think it can't solve anything. And then, of course, then that makes it hard for government to solve anything.

A Gallup poll, which has questioned the asked voters the question of, you know, what institution do you give approval to, disapproval to, government gets the lowest approval rating in the history of that poll - 17 percent, the first time that it's at the bottom, lower than oil and gas companies, Steve.

And a very interesting analysis by Bill McInturff is out over the weekend. He is a Republican pollster, highly respected, but this is a nonpartisan analysis looking at consumer confidence numbers and doing focus groups on that question. And it shows that the big drop of almost 16 points in consumer confidence from July to August was directly related to that debt ceiling debate.

Now, we have all theorized that that's the case, but now he's been able to put together the numbers. And there's no confidence in the president, in Republicans in Congress, in anyone in government to fix the problems. And he says that the debt ceiling debate was like a catastrophic event in terms of people's views, something like September 11th, where people had a very favorable view of government after that catastrophe, or Katrina, where people have a very unfavorable view of government after that catastrophe.

So people's confidence in Washington's ability to solve the country's economic problems is just nil. So it's very, very hard to believe voters will believe anything will happen as a result of whatever the president proposes.

INSKEEP: Well plenty of people have described that debt ceiling debate as a self-inflicted wound, and now you give us some information about what that self-inflicted wound means. Is there a risk here that we're in effect talking our way - talking ourselves into a recession?

ROBERTS: Well, yes, and I know you've reported on that, but you know, people -if people have no confidence in the economy, obviously they don't buy stuff because they worry that they're going to run out of cash, they need to hold onto money. It means businesses contract or stay the same, as we saw in the last jobs report. Then it makes recovery much tougher. This is so psychological.

You know, yesterday, Steve, I went to see Peter Pan for the again - and you know, it's clap if you believe in Tinkerbell. Well, that's kind of where we are with the economy. We all sort of need to clap to get it going a lot.

But those consumer confidence numbers don't just tell us about what to expect economically, but also a good bit about what to expect politically. There are lots of models now that show us that the numbers have to be high enough for a president to get reelected, and these numbers are well below what President Obama needs for reelection, and he's really got to at least activate the kinds of voters who so enthusiastically supported him the last time.

INSKEEP: Well, he's not going to be able to call on Tinkerbell to bring back those supporters. And over the weekend some voters, groups of people who supported him in 2008 are expressing disappointment with him this time around.

ROBERTS: Well, because he made a decision on Friday that he would suspend some new anti-smog standards, so environmentalists are saying they're very upset with him and saying they might sit out this election. They probably won't in the end, because they don't really have anyplace else to go. And the important thing is that the left, as dispirited as it is, doesn't run a candidate, because that would make it very difficult for the president to get reelected.

INSKEEP: Of course the right is running some candidates.

ROBERTS: Yes, and we will see tonight a job a candidate forum in South Carolina. Mitt Romney, the former front-runner, had said he's not going to be there. It's a Tea Party gathering. Now he is going to be there because poll after poll is showing that he is no longer the front-runner. That goes to Rick Perry.

INSKEEP: OK. Thanks very much as always. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts. She joins us most Monday mornings to talk over the news right here on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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