Presidential rivals spar over jobs

Bush plugs recent growth as Kerry warns of losses in dueling radio talks

April 04, 2004|By Maura Reynolds | Maura Reynolds,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - President Bush and Sen. John Kerry took their argument over the United States' economy to the airwaves yesterday, with the president asserting that the economy is on the mend and his challenger insisting that it was drifting overseas.

Bush and Kerry used dueling radio addresses to paint pictures of the economy that would serve their interests in the presidential campaign. And, with the economy emerging as a potentially defining issue in the election, the public's choice between the two versions of what lies ahead may be critical in determining the winner.

Polls consistently show that jobs and the economy are voters' top concerns and that a majority favor Kerry on those issues. With nearly 2 million jobs lost since Bush took office in 2001, Democrats eager for an area where the president is politically vulnerable have hammered him for months for having the worst job-creation record since the Depression.

As a result, Bush reveled for a second day in a Labor Department report showing the nation's employers swelled payrolls by 308,000 last month.

Bush hailed Friday's strong job creation figures as a "powerful confirmation that America's economy is growing stronger."

"Since August, we've added over three-quarters of a million new jobs in America. The unemployment rate has fallen from 6.3 percent last June to 5.7 percent last month," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Over the last year, the unemployment rate has fallen in 45 of the 50 states. This is good news for American workers, and good news for American families."

For his part, Kerry, who gave the Democratic response, insisted that one month of job creation cannot compensate for three years of job losses and job flight overseas.

"For three years, President Bush's only answer on jobs has been tax cuts for Americans who are already earning over $200,000 a year," he said. "We now hear the administration claiming economic success. But the definition of economic success should not be losing 2.6 million jobs in the private sector.

"There is not a single month of this administration that has seen the creation of a single manufacturing job," Kerry said.

Bush said displaced workers are being retrained with government help for higher-tech, higher-paying jobs. And he said he would offer new proposals on job training this week.

"Our economy has increasing demand for workers with advanced skills, such as teachers, health care workers, and environmental engineers. But too many Americans do not have these kinds of skills," Bush said. "So on Monday, I will travel to North Carolina to propose reforms of our federal job training system, to give our workers the help they need. Better job training will mean better jobs for American workers."

Kerry argued that Bush policies have encouraged companies to outsource jobs to foreign countries: "From cars to computer software to call centers, millions of Americans have seen their jobs shipped overseas. We can't retreat from the global economy or bring back every lost industry or protect every job. Some of them will move abroad. But we shouldn't have a president who encourages it - or a tax code that rewards it."

The jobs report, which when released Friday pushed stocks higher on Wall Street, also revealed a stronger picture than previously thought for the first two months of the year. Revisions to earlier payroll figures found that companies added 205,000 jobs in January and February, instead of the 118,000 reported last month.

The president credited his tax-cutting agenda for the economy's addition of more jobs than expected.

Other Democrats noted that the unemployment rate inched up one-tenth of a point to 5.7 percent last month. That rise in the jobless rate reflected the larger number of people who started looking for work again but failed to find jobs.

"Only in the Bush `economic recovery' can our country gain jobs and increase the unemployment rate in the same month," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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