Roundtable: Unemployment Rate Slightly Dips The newest unemployment numbers show first-time unemployment claims dipped slightly last week, but the jobless rate is still the highest in almost 30 years. Plus, President Barack Obama's second pick for Commerce Secretary bows out of the job.
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Roundtable: Unemployment Rate Slightly Dips

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Roundtable: Unemployment Rate Slightly Dips

Roundtable: Unemployment Rate Slightly Dips

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TONY COX, host:

And Susie An joins us now. Welcome, Susie.

SUSIE AN: Hi, Tony.

COX: Nice job there. You know, we hear a lot about people who are out of work. We don't often hear as much about people who have either never been employed or number one, are young enough to that they're losing their very first jobs. What directed you toward this?

AN: Well, as you know, being a young reporter, I know many young people, so a lot of my friends are going through this right now. Either getting out of college and finding themselves in the workforce and not being able to get a job quickly. And some friends who have been on the job for a year or two and they're the first to get laid off because they were the last hired. And so, I just wanted to, you know, show young people that, you know, it's not all doom and gloom. I mean, it is tough out there, but as a young person, you do have some advantages and it doesn't have to be so tough. You can use this as a time to benefit yourself and rethink what you want in your career path.

COX: Well, good job as I said. I want you to stick around because we're going to continue the conversation now with our Reporters' Roundtable. Federal lawmakers are close to approving a multibillion-dollar stimulus package, and President Barack Obama's second pick for Commerce secretary bows out of the job. Joining us today, John Yearwood, world editor at the Miami Herald; Laura Washington, a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times; and coming back with us, Susie An, a freelance reporter for WBEZ in Chicago whom we've just heard. Hello, everybody, nice to have you.

Mr. JOHN YEARWOOD (World Editor, Miami Herald): Hello, Tony.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times): Hi, Tony.

COX: So, we heard Susie's report, and it comes as the newest numbers show first-time unemployment claims dipped slightly last week, but the jobless rate is still the highest that it's been in almost 30 years. John, in your neck of the woods, how is unemployment affecting the community, particularly, if you know, as it relates to younger people who are just getting started?

Mr. YEARWOOD: Well, Tony, unemployment in South Florida is high, in fact, much higher than in other parts of the state, and certainly, I think, much higher than we're seeing throughout the country. And I think with some of the things that we're seeing here is so much what we're seeing elsewhere as Susie talked about, particularly if you're a young person getting your first job you are clearly one of the first to be without a job as this climate, economic climate worsens. So, we're seeing some of the same thing here and in fact we had a story on the front page of the Miami Herald this morning about how young people - and going even further than young people are actually working with young people going to school are also living - who are homeless, in some cases, because their parents don't have jobs.

COX: You know, I would think, Laura Washington, you're there in Chicago with Susie An, that not only as it bad for students coming out of college who are getting this jobs or not getting them and then once they get them losing them because they were the last hired, that they're coming out of college with this tremendous debt often from student loans.

Ms. WASHINGTON: As in - and Tony, and that is - you're absolutely right in that. I also teach in DePaul University, teach journalism there. And what I'm seeing is people happen to make tough choices about the kinds of jobs and (unintelligible) careers they choose. They come in the school bright and bushy tailed and excited about journalism careers which is in and of itself is a pretty amazing thing given what's been having in our field for the last several years. And by the time they get that diploma they realize they can't afford to take a relatively low entry level paying job. And in fact, many of my former students are bartending, you know, working in a coffee shop, working during the day in a temp agency. They're doing a variety of things just because they have - not only just to keep eating, but also because they don't want that student loan debt to overwhelm them.

COX: Well, you know, Susie, let me bring you back in to ask you this. We know that the $789 - make it $790, if you like, billion stimulus package is about to be signed by the president. Part of that is supposed to be the put-people-back-to-work projects, the so-called Dirt and Shovel Project. I'm wondering, from your standpoint, from the young people that you have encountered, are they looking forward to those kinds of jobs as an opportunity for them?

AN: Well, some of the people I did talk to - you know, some people are just grabbing at whatever they can get. So, you know, I'm not sure if I can say that they are looking forward to it. But they are looking for whatever they can get. And then there are some others who - the woman I talked to in the piece, Aileen Murphy, you know, she was talking about how she at first was looking for anything that she could get. But then after, you know, being months out of the job, she took some time to rethink and thought, you know, I'm just going to look for the job that I want even though this is a hard time. So, I feel as a young person, it's - it could go either way. I feel there are some people who are just desperate to get that job, but others who are using this time of unemployment to really seek out that they truly want in a career.

COX: One of the things, John that was an earmark of this legislative process was how un-bipartisan - it actually turned out to be one of the interesting side notes was that in your state, Florida, your governor Charlie Crist was one of those who was on board with the stimulus package. Do you think that there's going to be any political backlash for him and others who supported - well, we know that there is for some, but do you think that there will be for Charlie Crist because of his crossing the line?

Mr. YEARWOOD: Yeah. We're already seeing some backlash and that a number of Republicans in Florida are questioning his siding with President Obama on the stimulus package. But at the other hand, Charlie Crist is a political dynamo in Florida and lasting impact of him siding with this, I don't think we're going to see that, and particularly if at the end of the day, the economic stimulus package ends up making the economy a lot better, so you know, he's up for reelection in a couple of years and a lot of people here are saying that he is so popular as it is right now that any impact from supporting the president - this would not be, will not be lasting.

COX: One of the interesting things Laura Washington, about this, Lindsey Gramm of South Carolina is saying the other day, he was opposed to the stimulus package, but he is certainly going to take that money for his state.

Ms. WASHINGTON: The states are in desperate straits right now, and then, you know, most of the states in this country cannot balance their budgets, they're desperate for revenues even in Illinois where it's considering something that's been unthinkable till now, is a statewide income tax increase. So, they're going to take whatever money they can get.

COX: I would assume that would include the state of Illinois.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Absolutely. And even if they do get it, I mean, I think that we're counting on some big money coming from Washington particularly because Illinois is Obama's home state, President Obama's home state, but by the same token, no matter what our wish list is, it's not going to be enough to balance our budgets. So, we're in deep straits right now.

COX: All right. What we're going to do - we're going to continue the conversation in a moment because we want to talk about the developments in commerce. As you know, President Obama's pick for Commerce secretary, Senator Judd Gregg, has pulled his name from nomination and as a result of that, there is a lot of finger-pointing that is going on right now whether or not Gregg embarrassed himself, that he embarrassed the president, that the president embarrassed himself by making the choice that was doomed from the beginning perhaps, all of that we're going to discuss when we come back right after this.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: We're back with the Reporters' Roundtable talking with Laura Washington from Chicago, John Yearwood in Florida and Susie An also in Chicago. Let's pick up about the Commerce secretary, Senator Judd Gregg dropping out of the nomination for Commerce secretary. One of the things, Laura Washington, that I've been seeing about this and reading all day today and yesterday as well is this: There is a sense that perhaps it was a noble idea on the part of the president, but not a very practical one to begin with.

Ms. WASHINGTON: I think that's correct and even Judd Gregg himself said that, when he announced that he was pulling out that he didn't realize - he was eager to serve, but he didn't realize what it would really mean for a Republican who is conservative on fiscal issues to step into the middle of it - of this administration. And in fact, he said, any administration - you know, it's noble, but when you really get down to the brass tax and start looking - he started looking at the stimulus plans, started looking at what the administration - where they were headed on a number of issues and found that he just couldn't be there. So, I think there's not any permanent damage done. I was really impressed with the way Gregg handled his departure. He was very, you know, he had - he was full of praise for Obama, he was full of praise for - in fact, with the stimulus plan and even though many of his fellow Republicans have been kind of beating up on it this week. He said, you know, he was comfortable with where it was going. And he blamed himself for what happened, but it just - it wasn't meant to be.

COX: It seems to me, John Yearwood that this gives the president an opportunity to perhaps step back from pushing for bipartisanship to the extent that he had been and perhaps put a Democrat in there this time.

Mr. YEARWOOD: Well, Tony, I think you're absolutely right. I think what was heard in all of this is, I guess the effort to what some kind of bipartisan consensus of it. I think what the public is beginning to see is that that's very difficult which explains why so few presidents have wanted to go there. In this case, you know, I don't anticipate that President Obama is going to step too far back because he is committed, but the more episodes like we've seen with Gregg, the more difficult everyone will see that this process is. And what I think is also unfortunate about this whole thing is that the Commerce secretary is an important position within the Cabinet. You may remember that Ron Brown pretty much transformed that office into quite an effective position. I mean, you have the census and other things that really need urgent attention and I think it's one of those areas where I think the president ought to move quickly on to get a Commerce secretary in place.

COX: You're absolutely right. The late Ron Brown as a matter of fact, was also the first African-American to hold that position, I believe that I'm correct in that.

Mr. YEARWOOD: Yes, Tony.

COX: We've been talking about the economy all week and we've been talking about foreign policy and we've been talking about a number of things that weigh heavily on the public's mind. So, we're going to end this week's edition of Reporter's Roundtable on something that is a little lighter in content. It's about actress Salma Hayek. She went to Sierra Leone and breastfed a malnourished child in front of an ABC News camera crew and this is what she said.

(Soundbite of interview)

Ms. SALMA HAYEK (Actress): I thought about it. Am I being disloyal to my child by giving - giving your milk away? And I actually think that my baby would be very proud to be able to share her milk and when she grows up, I'm going to make sure that she continuous to be a generous caring person.

COX: So, Susie An, sincere or publicity stunt?

AN: Well, I have to say, Laura and I just looked at each other and kind of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

AN: Had a little silent laugh there. You know, I don't know if I would call it a publicity stunt, but I'm just not sure why, you know, this is - why here in America, we, you know, make this such an issue. I mean, I think it's bizarre, of course. I mean, I've never given birth to a child, so I don't know what that is like to - you know, that connection of breastfeeding, but I'm just not sure why ABC even had to air this, why it had to be of any importance on the news.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: Well, we see...

Ms. WASHINGTON: Celebrities, that's why. We love our celebrities and we love their personal lives. It's like no one's ever breastfeed - fed a baby before. I found the whole thing really silly and in some ways, kind of patronizing to children - this poor little baby. I'm going to give this poor little African baby some of my good stuff. That was the way it came up to me.

COX: Hmm. Well, that's a good way to end the program. I appreciate all of you. Good Reporters' Roundtable, thank you.

Ms. WASHINGTON: Thank you.

Mr. YEARWOOD: Thank you, Tony.

AN: Thank you.

COX: John Yearwood is the world editor at the Miami Herald; Laura Washington, a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times; and Susie An, a freelance reporter with WBEZ, Laura and Susie joining us from WBEZ in Chicago.

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