Bush Defends Jobs Record
President Calls 5.6 Percent Unemployment Rate 'a Good Number'
Monday, February 23, 2004; 4:16 PM
President Bush Monday called the nation's 5.6 percent unemployment rate "a good number" given recent shocks to the economy and sparked a new round of election-year criticism from Democrats who accused him of playing down the problem.
Bush has been on the defensive over unemployment since a senior White House adviser said earlier this month the outsourcing of U.S. jobs to workers overseas may benefit the economy.
"The 5.6 percent unemployment (rate) is a good national number. It's not good enough, but it's a good number, particularly since what we've been through, which has been a recession and emergency and corporate scandal and war," the president told U.S. governors at a White House meeting.
Unemployment has emerged as a hot-button issue in this year's presidential campaign. Nearly 2.8 million factory jobs have been lost since Bush took office in January 2001 and Democrats say the Republican White House has been insensitive to their plight.
"There are a lot of real people behind that number, a lot of unemployed people behind that number, a lot of chronically unemployed behind that number, and that number doesn't include those who have given up looking for work. I was disappointed," Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, said after the meeting with Bush.
The White House was forced last week to back away from its own optimistic employment forecast calling for average job growth of more than 300,000 jobs a month this year. The figure far exceeded most private forecasts and prompted Democratic criticism.
Earlier this month, Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, caused a political uproar with comments about the economic merits of shifting U.S. jobs overseas. Under pressure from Republicans, Mankiw said later he had not meant to praise the loss of American jobs to cheaper overseas labor markets.
"The future under George Bush means deficits as far as the eye can see. It means more tax cuts for the wealthy as more American jobs are shipped overseas," Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry said in New York.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended the president and said the unemployment rate was declining steadily. The 5.6 percent rate in January was the lowest in two years and below the average of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, he said.
"The economy is strong and growing stronger. It is moving in the right direction. But there is more to do," McClellan added.
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