Federal statistics show the U.S. gained 117,000 jobs in July, and unemployment dropped to 9.1 percent. Financial journalist Stacey Tisdale discusses what these numbers mean for the national economy's long-term health, and Rep. Chakah Fattah describes how his Pa. district compares to the rest of the U.S.
MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. This is our special live broadcast from Philadelphia from the National Association of Black Journalists. The group is holding it's annual meeting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Coming up we'll have a round table of leading journalists talking about diversity in the newsroom. Is today's media equipped to tell the stories of this increasingly diverse nation? We will ask, and the Barbershop is open here in Philly.
The guys are here with the buzz on the week's hot stories, from how certain pundits talk about the president to MTV's 30th birthday. We have a great lineup so, we hope you'll stay with us. But first some unexpected good news today on unemployment. One hundred seventeen thousand new jobs were created in July according to the bureau of labor statistics. That is significantly more jobs than were created in June. We saw only 18,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate dipped slightly from 9.2 percent to 9.1 percent. But is today's good news enough to get the economic recovery back on track?
We want to talk about what the new numbers mean for the people who are affected most by the crisis. Joining us here in Philadelphia is Representative Chaka Fattah. He is a Democrat. He is serving his eighth term in Congress. He represents the state's second district which includes Philadelphia. He's also a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and chair of the Congressional Urban Caucus. Congressman Fattah, welcome, thank you so much for joining us.
Representative CHAKA FATTAH: Oh, look, it is such a pleasure to be here. Now, I missed Eric Holder the dancing across the stage yesterday but to be here on your show live from my hometown, this is great.
MARTIN: Well, great, great for us too. Also with us is award-winning financial journalist Stacey Tisdale. She's been featured on PBS in DC's Today Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She's reported on business and financial issues for more than 15 years and she's actually being honored here at the convention for her work to promote financial literacy. We're so happy to see you also Stacy. Thank you for joining us.
STACEY TISDALE: It's great to be here, thank you.
MARTIN: Congressman Fattah, I'm going to start with you. We want to talk obviously about the impact that unemployment is having on your district, but overall, yeah, we have today's unemployment numbers which were unexpectedly favorable particularly compared to last month. But yesterday the Dow plunged 500 points. So I wanted to ask when you put all this together are you optimistic or pessimistic about the possibilities for a real robust recovering?
FATTAH: Well, I am very optimistic. Unfortunately we don't put the job numbers in context; that is set at there are 130 million people going to work every day. Nine out of every ten Americans are working. Now, when we were in the Depression one out of four were unemployed. Now, we have three million job openings and yes, we have something in the eight million number of people who we need to match up with jobs. So we're short some jobs but when we look at the two and a half years of the Obama administration we've had a net increase.
Two million net on the private sector job increase side. Where we're losing jobs mainly is in government layoffs because of the recession which has cut off local tax dollars so cities like Philadelphia, states like Pennsylvania all across the country are laying off teachers, fire fighters and the like. And that's (unintelligible) we're losing jobs on the public sector side. But when you look at the big scope of things throughout the world Charles Conner who's a Republican conservative says yesterday, yesterday had nothing to do with the United States.
The sell-off was about Europe. It's about the panic about whether Spain or Italy are going to, you know, go under financially. We have the strongest economy in the world. We are the wealthiest country in the world. If we could get over our political nonsense at times and focus on rebuilding our country, as the president's tried to do, I think that we could move forward as a nation very aggressively.
MARTIN: Okay, we want to hear more about your what you call the political nonsense in a minute. But Stacey, let's hear it from you. When you look at these numbers how do you interpret them, and what would a healthy rate of job creation look like?
TISDALE: Well, we saw that the economy created 117,000 new jobs last month. We would actually have to create twice as many to really nip the employment situation. What I thought was an interesting trend in all of this is that we had businesses create 154,000 jobs. We saw another report earlier this week that the private sector is creating jobs. That's a really interesting positive trend to me. We have seen the government really being one of the biggest job creators over the last year as you look at the employment reports.
Based on what we've seen in Washington, based on what we know is ahead we're not going to be able to look to them really as a big job creator, so the fact that we're seeing the strength coming from the private sector I think is a really encouraging sign.
MARTIN: Congressman Fattah, you know too that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate for June was 7.6 percent. That's about two points lower than the national average. The latest data shows that the Philadelphia metro area has about an 8.9 percent rate, which is, you know, lower than the national average and part of that, and I think because Philadelphia hasn't experienced the degree of public sector layoffs that some other places have. And is that a philosophical issue, which is that the argument here has been to try to protect public sector employment? Is that part of what this is?
FATTAH: Well, the mayor of our city has done an extraordinary job in some very difficult economic circumstances to avoid layoffs, but we have our challenges and we have some problems with our school district, in terms of being able to balance our budget and not, you know, there's some significant layoffs that are going to be in place there. But let me say something. You know, at the heart of this manufacturing is a very important issue and I want to take a minute and just mention this because I've been out and visiting manufacturers in Philadelphia and around the country. We need to improve manufacturing, enhance it as a way to build job growth long term.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're broadcasting live from the National Association of Black Journalists. That group is meeting at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. It's their annual meeting. We're talking about new job numbers out today with Congressman Chaka Fattah and financial journalist Stacey Tisdale.
FATTAH: Congressman, you referenced, you know, the political - I don't know what term, you used nonsense as all that's been going on, you know, of late. What is your sense of whether our political leadership is capable of addressing the economic challenges that the country faces? I mean, a lot of people came out of this very bruising debate over raising the debt ceiling last week feeling somewhat disheartened. What's your thoughts?
We have a hospital directly across the street from here. The x-rays are sent to India to be analyzed. Their insurance company is two blocks from here. They're sending work by satellite overseas to be done. The economy has changed in our world and we have to think about it globally. We have economic competitors the likes of which we've never seen in China and India is much larger countries, lots of more people, and we're going to have to change.
Republican Democrats, that's an old argument. It's really us against our economic competitors in the world. This notion that Republicans can work to see Obama the president fail and have America succeed is an argument working against itself. We have to work together to protect our jobs, our economy, and compete against those nations I don't--I'm not attacking those nations but China and India are great countries that are competing with us for our jobs, for our standard of living. If we want to succeed as a nation we're going to have to unite as Americans.
MARTIN: And Stacey, to that point I mentioned you're being honored here at NABJ for a project that educates high school students about finances. What is your assessment of that? Do you think that our ongoing employment problem or economic challenges, is that a result of larger structural forces or is there in part perhaps a mismatch between the skills that the job market currently requires and those that potential workers actually have? What's your assessment of this?
TISDALE: I think we're going through a tremendous era of transformation when the country has to really look at itself and see that we are a global economy and see where we are globally and see what are the skills we need to participate in the global economy.
An interesting point then the congressman made was that those x-rays go to India, but Indian citizens are also providing an engine for U.S. companies to make money right now. They were in a very export German economy and we have to figure out what we can do to compete here. And it's all coming down to economic growth. I mean people - it's difficult for people to think about, OK, I need to take the time to retrain myself right now when they are hurting.
And this is going to be a long process. But I think everyone needs to kind of take a look at where things are, see the skills that they need to develop and focus on being what the job market needs them to be.
MARTIN: Now, Congressman Fattah, I want to push you on this whole question of whether the political system here and our political leaders in particular are meeting the challenge, particularly wanted to ask you about President Obama, 'cause there's been an argument or a debate emerge and particularly among some black political activists and intellectuals about whether the president is doing enough to address the particular concerns of African-Americans.
Not, I would say, because of race, although race is part of it, but because African-Americans have been so disproportionately affected by the economic downturn. The unemployment rate among African-Americans is the highest among all, you know, ethnic groups. So I want to ask you, do you think the president is doing enough?
FATTAH: You take any group of presidents, there's no group of them together. Ten or more, 20, that has done more in terms of the issues of importance in the African-American community than Barack Obama. And anyone intellectually would like to engage in that, I'd be glad to engage with them around that. The notion that disproportionate unemployment rates started with President Obama is nonsense.
And those who want to deal with the real critical issues that relate to the challenges of African ancestor(ph) Americans and discount) the foundational changes that are being made in terms of investments in K to 12, historic investments in education early, college, 2.5 billion in historically black colleges. You go through the gambit of things that the president has done, really making a difference.
All I would say to those who want to be intellectual about it is God bless them. We're going to deal with the real world that we're in. And if they've got someone else they'd like to see be president, I hope they get a chance to vote for them in November of next year.
MARTIN: OK. Well, tell us what you really think next time.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: Stacey, final thought from you. As I mentioned, that you're being honored for your work with financial literacy. When you talk to students about what you think they need to do to be prepared for this new economy, what are you telling them? What advice do you give? Briefly, if you would.
TISDALE: At its heart, this economic slowdown can be told as a story of financial illiteracy. People have to start looking at what a true definition of being financially literate is. Though your ethnicity, you're talking about African-Americans, your gender, you experiences, what you're seeing all plays out in your financial experience. Students need to understand that and really take their intellect into the economy and try to prosper from there.
MARTIN: Stacey Tisdale is an award-winning financial journalist who contributes to PBS and NBC. She was here with us in our - the Pennsylvania convention center at the National Association of Black Journalists conference.
Also with us, Congressman Chaka Fattah. He's a Democrat. He's serving his 8th term in the U.S. House and he represents Pennsylvania's 2nd district, which includes Philadelphia. Thank you both so much for joining us.
FATTAH: Thank you for having us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.