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More Than 100,000 Set to Lose Long-Term Unemployment Benefits; Importance of Latino Voters; Does Class Size Matter?

Aired June 2, 2012 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

The economic crisis cost millions of Americans their jobs. Now the life line for those out of work the longest is going away.


ROMANS (voice-over): Millions of Americans walking the tightrope, trying to avoid falling from the middle class. Lose your job and you'll need a net to catch you.

MITT ROMNEY, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will do everything in my power to get people good jobs, to make sure we have a safety net that cares for people that are falling from the middle class into poverty.

ROMANS: 99ers receiving an unprecedented 99 weeks of jobless benefits.

CROWD (chanting): A job is a right. Fight, fight, fight.

ROMANS: But 20 straight months of job gains have many wondering when do you cut the cord?

CROWD: What do we want? Jobs. And when do we want it? Now.

ROMANS: With no easy answers for the long-term unemployed, what can and what should government do?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes it means making sure that there's a safety net.


ROMANS: By the end of the summer, the gaps in that safety net are going to be a whole lot wider. More than 100,000 Americans across six states are set to lose the extended unemployment benefits they've been receiving from the federal government. Those are the states in yellow -- Rhode Island, Idaho, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, and also Washington, D.C. As state unemployment rates improve, the kinds of federal extensions that led to 99 weeks of support are being phased out.

Stephen Moore is an editorial writer with "The Wall Street Journal." Stephen, benefits may be disappearing, but the problem that led to these extraordinary emergency measures are not going away. 5 million Americans remain out of work for six months or longer. Are we cutting the cord too soon, considering how weak this economic recovery has been?

STEPHEN MOORE, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, I certainly agree with you, Christine, that this has been a weak jobs recovery, one of the weakest we've had, and that's the core of the problem, isn't it? That there just aren't enough private sector jobs out there that are being created.

But, you know, I've never been a fan of extending unemployment benefits beyond six months or a year. I think two years of benefits is just too much, and I'll tell you why, Christine. I just think that one of the worst things you can do for someone who loses their job -- and there's nothing more tragic than someone in their 30s or 40s or 50s losing their life line, their job -- but the problem is, we have incentivized -- and the data is pretty clear on this -- we do incentivize people to stay unemployed to continue to collect those benefits. And what happens is people start looking for jobs very vigorously once the benefits run out. And that's, I think, the problem I have with the many extensions that we've made. I think we've had like 10 extensions of unemployment insurance.

ROMANS: Let's bring in former "New York Times" columnist Bob Herbert. He is a senior fellow at Demos, and I'm pretty sure he is going to disagree with you.

Bob, the simple argument would be if you want to lower unemployment, you need to stop paying people not to work. Are we focused here on the wrong goal?

BOB HERBERT, FORMER NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: We are focused on the wrong goal. In the first place I think that the reason for unemployment benefits to start with should be to provide assistance to people who are really hurting. Individuals and families who are--

ROMANS: You had 26 weeks, but it's going all the way to 99 weeks.


HERBERT: Well, that's why we've extended it, because as Stephen said, the economy has been in such dire shape for so long. He and I have looked at the same data, and I think he'll agree that while there is some evidence that extended unemployment insurance keeps some people from looking for work, it's a small -- it's a relatively small percentage. And I don't think that all of the people who are helped by extended benefits should be punished because of the small percentage that maybe are abusing the system.

ROMANS: I want to ask you, Stephen, I want to bring this up quickly, because economist Mark Zandi, who is a frequent guest on this show, he estimates that every dollar you spend on unemployment benefits is $1.61 that goes into the economy. So there's some now, even people who have been opposed to really long extensions, who are a little worried about taking away what amounts to a stealth stimulus at a time when the economy isn't really that robust. What do you say to that? MOORE: Christine, please tell me you don't actually believe that unemployment benefits--

ROMANS: My dear, I'm the devil's advocate. It's my job to get you two to go at it, not anything else.

MOORE: You can make the case that for humanitarian reasons, we should provide a safety net for people, and that's an argument we can have. But you cannot make a rational case that paying people money to not work is somehow stimulating people to work. It's the opposite of what happens. I mean, what you are doing when you are extending unemployment insurance is you are taking people -- money from people who are working, and you're giving it to people --

ROMANS: Actually, you're borrowing money -- you are borrowing money from elsewhere to take money to give to people. So you could even take that a step further. But, Bob, I want you to jump in.

HERBERT: There is a stimulus effect to the economy. I don't think that it is a huge effect, but just putting that money into circulation is helpful.

But what's important to keep in mind here, is that there are not enough jobs available for all the people who want and need to work. I mean, we need to keep that in mind. If it was a case we had all these jobs and then we had all these people sitting at home watching television or playing with their gadgets instead of going out and looking for work, that would be one thing. But that is not the situation.


MOORE: You know, Bob, I talk to employers a lot, and they would disagree with you on that. I mean, there is a demand--

ROMANS: They can't (ph) hire workers. They say that they have shortages of labor.


HERBERT: -- with all of those jobs that the employers say that they can't find workers for, you would still have an enormous number of Americans out of work, even if you filled all those jobs.

ROMANS: But you know what, let's come back and we'll talk about the skilled labor shortage next week, and you guys can hash that out.


ROMANS: -- because that's another very good angle of the story.

MOORE: But nobody helps their skills, Bob, if they're not working at all. That's my point.


HERBERT: -- taking a job as a janitor, what skills are you improving?

MOORE: I think anything you do is better than sitting on your butt and watching TV, even if it's CNN.

ROMANS: I don't know. I think we all agree that most Americans don't want to accept that their only income is going to be a jobless check for the rest of their lives.

MOORE: I hope you're right.

ROMANS: I think that that's not really the case. All right. Thanks, guys, so much, Bob Herbert, Stephen Moore, nice to see both of you. Have a wonderful weekend, gentlemen.


ROMANS: Coming up next, Latinos are the fastest growing voter block in the United States. Democrats assume they have their vote. But will staggering Latino unemployment evict President Obama from the White House and put his Republican rival in his place?

And it all begins and ends in the classroom. So does class size matter to you? We're going to get to the bottom line of this controversial issue that Mitt Romney has brought back into the spotlight.


ROMANS: Voter turnout among Latinos could be as high as 12 million come November. It's the fastest growing voter block in the United States, and key in battleground states like Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. And as we're going to show you, that's exactly where the Republicans were tripped up in past elections. Democrats consistently won the Latino vote in the past four presidential elections.

Let's look at these dark orange counties bordering Mexico. These are areas all around the country here actually you can see with higher concentrations of Latino voters, according to 2010 census data. This is where the president did very well in some of these places here, which have high concentrations of Latino voters. And I am going to show you exactly how it turned out when you look at voter turnout and who won what.

Obama beat out Senator John McCain 2-1 in 2008, clinching those key counties. Every place blue here is where the president won.

In 1996, President Clinton won 72 percent of the Latino vote. But President George W. Bush made real inroads in both the 2000 and the 2004 elections. In his last run, Bush nabbed 44 percent of the vote, but Kerry still won it with 53 percent.

Now, the latest poll from Pew Research from a month ago has the Latino vote leaning heavily toward President Obama over Mitt Romney, but with Latino unemployment in the double digits, rampant foreclosures and 66 percent of Latino household wealth wiped out over the past few years, is this a window opportunity for Mitt Romney to win some of the Hispanic vote? Joining me now are Leslie Sanchez. She's a Republican strategist. And Maria Cardona, she's the founder of Latino Innovations, and a Democratic strategist. Welcome, both of you.



ROMANS: Good morning. Listen, Leslie, various polls show immigration isn't the main concern for Latinos. It's the economy. It's jobs. But in light of Mitt Romney's harsh primary position on immigration, can he change that negative perception out there that -- among some Latinos before this election?

SANCHEZ: Many people are still looking at both parties and I think are going to be making up their minds. The reality is, many folks are looking at President Obama and trying to decide did his economic leadership help them and their abilities? I think if you look at the fact that two-thirds of Hispanic households have somebody in their family that was without a job over the last year, or the Hispanics are falling into poverty at a higher rate than any other group, the answer is no, their situation is not better than it was three years ago. Those create opportunities not only for Mitt Romney but for the Republican Party, and good, strong conservative candidates all the way down ballot.

ROMANS: It's interesting, because the background noise of the conversation has always been about immigration, but it's these things, these kitchen table things in this bad economy that affect all Americans. Bad but improving economy. As a matter of fact, all Americans, those seem to be the things that are polling real high for so many Latino voters.

Maria, the Obama camp just released its third in a series of Spanish language television and radio ads, highlighting the president's record on jobs and health care, saying that they added 4.2 million jobs through April of this year. But unemployment among Latinos is still in double digits. So could this be seen as a broken promise among Latinos and Democrats who wanted to have a better situation?

CARDONA: Well, certainly the president needs to keep communicating what he has done, not just for the Latino community but for the country as a whole, in terms of rescuing the economy from a second Great Depression, which is exactly what he was handed when he walked into the Oval Office.

And, yes, Latino unemployment is still in double digits, but like unemployment in general, it is going town. So that is something that the president needs to continue to talk about.

Health care, the same thing. The president's health care act gives Latinos -- 9 million Latinos, Christine -- health care coverage that wouldn't -- they wouldn't have it without the Affordable Health Care Act. And what does Mitt Romney want to do? Repeal it on the very first day. And let me just mention one important issue about immigration. We do know, we all agree, it is not the No. 1 issue for Latinos. Jobs and the economy is, the same as it is for all Americans. But immigration has become for Latinos what we call a filter issue or a litmus test issue.

ROMANS: Right.

CARDONA: Meaning that if Latinos do not like the way that you are talking to them about immigration, about the people that they know and frankly some of the family members that they may have in their own family without legal status, they're not going to listen to you on anything else.


ROMANS: You say that Mitt Romney has been (inaudible), but, Leslie, I want to ask you this first, it is President Obama's policies, aggressive policies on deportations that makes people on the left very, very unhappy about his own -- their own president's policy on immigration. So is that something that Mitt Romney can sort of find some ground with?

SANCHEZ: You hit the nail on the head. You know, the way many Hispanic voters feel is that the Democrats and the Obama administration invited them to the party, but then they didn't realize their job was to park the cars when they got there. And I say that because promises mean something to the Hispanic community. We felt as if we were included and invited, and I will argue that many Hispanic voters feel that both Democrats and Republicans have really ignored this community and understanding their true needs, meaning the economic issues, meaning when you make a commitment to pass immigration reform, stick to your commitment.

ROMANS: Maria?

CARDONA: Recent Pew Hispanic poll actually talked about the big challenge, and it is a challenge for President Obama in terms of the deportations and the immigration promise. Despite those challenges, it still showed large majorities of Hispanic voters were supporting this president for a couple of reasons. No. 1, they do see that it is only this president the one who has been talking about comprehensive immigration reform, and he basically says he can't do it alone. There are 11 Republican senators in the Senate right now that just a few short years ago supported comprehensive immigration reform, before the party lurched to the right. There are zero today, Christine, and the president needs to continue to talk about that, because the president says if we had a handful of Republican senators, we could pass it tomorrow.


ROMANS: Ladies, I know. We have five and a half months to continue to watch every turn. Great points from both of you. Thank you so much, Leslie Sanchez, and Maria Cardona. Thank you and have a nice weekend. All right, coming up next, Mitt Romney sparks a debate on classroom size. He says it doesn't matter, but parents and teachers disagree. We're going to get to the bottom line, whether smaller classes really do produce better students.


ROMANS: A warm welcome to the first grade class of PS-41 in New York, who are visiting us this morning. All right. There's been brief moments on the campaign trail where education has surfaced, but just as quickly it fades away. We won't let that happen here, because, bottom line, education matters to you, your family and the country's future.

The campaigns have moved on to attacking each other's jobs records, but let's stay on education. Last week, we told you how Mitt Romney called our poor education system the civil rights issue of our time in front of teachers and education professionals in Philadelphia. He also argued that based on his experience as governor of Massachusetts and evidence gathered during that time, class size doesn't affect the quality of a student's education.


ROMNEY: The school district with the smallest classrooms, Cambridge, had students performing in the bottom 10 percent. So just getting smaller classrooms didn't seem to be the key.

STEVEN MORRIS, MUSIC TEACHER: I can't think of any teacher in the whole time I've been teaching over 10 years, 13 years, who would say that they would love -- that more students would benefit them.

ROMNEY: Right. Of course.

MORRIS: And I can't think of a parent that would say, I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.


ROMANS: So what do the numbers say? Let's take a look at the results of one study in Tennessee. The green bars represent classes with 13 to 17 students in kindergarten through third grade. The blue bars are classes with 22 to 25 students. Students with small classes scored up to 11 percent higher on math and reading tests than their peers, and they continued to score higher even after they moved out of the small classes and into classes with more students.

Now, that study at least suggests smaller classes for young children, young children in particular, produce better students.

Now, in Finland, that's the case. According to international rankings, Finnish students score near the top in math, science and reading. Their class size? About 20 students. South Korea, though, also ranked highly in each subject, but South Korean classrooms are more crowded, with an average of 29 students. Well, let's look at the United States. We're in the middle in class size, with an average of 24 students in each classroom, but we rank much lower in achievement. 13th in reading, 27th in math, and 19th in science.

You've heard from politicians and academics on this. Let's bring in a teacher. Sarah Wessling was the 2010 teacher of the year. She joins us now. Welcome to the program, Sarah.


ROMANS: All right, Sarah, last year the education secretary, Arne Duncan, said he would prefer to put his own children in a larger class with a great teacher rather than a smaller class with a mediocre teacher. So my question is, does teacher quality trump class size?

WESSLING: Well, you know, there really is nothing that can replace a quality teacher in a classroom. I think that part of this discussion is our desire to think that we can leverage, that we can take our most effective teachers and put as many students as possible in their classrooms, and they can leverage that effectiveness for all students.

And, you know, the truth is for my own students, my own children, I would want them to be in classrooms where they do have effective teachers, but those teachers are not asked to leverage that effectiveness to create factories out of those classrooms, and I think that's an important part of the conversation.

ROMANS: You know, you say -- it's not only how many students are in the classroom, it's also how they're being taught. Technology also is changing the traditional teaching model as well. And as we move forward, maybe technology allows for bigger classrooms. If we're using the technology right without compromising the quality of education for our kids.

WESSLING: I certainly think that technology can inform different ways that we envision classrooms, but in the end, if we're going to move any single student from point A to point B, they have to have a teacher, an instructor, someone guiding them right by their side to really help facilitate that learning process, and we can't replicate that through technology. We still need that person-to-person contact.

ROMANS: Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, he told us that the most important classroom is the home. Those classrooms, he says, have a student/teacher ratio of roughly 1:1. And when I talk to teachers or I talk about this issue, I get a lot of feedback from teachers who say, look, you talk about teacher quality and class size -- parental involvement for them is a big part of this debate too.

WESSLING: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we know that things that happen outside of school impact the things that happen inside school. We know that. But I'll tell you, I also really believe that most parents are sending to us the very best kids they can. And when it comes to us in the classroom, are parents part of the solution? Absolutely. Should they be our scapegoats? No. ROMANS: All right. Sarah Wessling, nice to see you, have a great weekend. Talk to you again soon, I hope.

WESSLING: Thanks a lot.

ROMANS: All right, coming up next, new hope for job seekers as the entry level job market is at its best in years. We'll look at how a strategic approach could lead to being the new rich.


ROMANS: Entry-level hiring may not be back to where it was before the recession, but it's the best we have seen it since 2008, especially in business, accounting, engineering and information technology.


ROMANS (voice-over): Job growth slowed in May, and job seekers at this career fare are more focused than ever.

MARK HEADLEY, JOB SEEKER: Today I see all the things that I need to work on and tweak for my next career fare.

NIKKY NWAMOKOBIA, JOB SEEKER: Approaching someone and having to, you know, shpiel (ph) about yourself for one minute is kind of nerve- wracking so it's good practice.

ROMANS: For Mark Headley and Nikky Nwamokobia, their plan is simple. Meet people and start a conversation.

CARLINA CENIZA-LEVINE, CAREER COACH: When it's competitive like this and there are a lot of job seekers out there, the best moves are the most basic ones.

ROMANS: No question they're coming into a labor market that's not very forgiving. Only 69,000 jobs created in the month of May. That means for anyone looking for a job, at 8.2 percent unemployment, every edge counts.

MARIA SARVANSKI, JOB SEEKER: I've been trying to work on job search strategies every day.

ROMANS: Maria Sarvanski recently added an MBA to her resume. She's been looking for a marketing job in the battered travel and leisure sector for about three months. She hired career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine to help.

SARVANSKI: It's a process that you have to keep at the thought (ph) of it, meaning that you have to work and do something for your search almost every day.

ROMANS: Her job coach says it's important to keep evolving with the job market, build contacts, use social media, and don't just pursue one type of position. Keep your options open.

CENIZA-LEVINE: I think people looking for that magic bullet, that one thing to do, will spend a lot of time on something like a resume, when they really should be doing multiple things.

ROMANS: For Mark Headley and Nikky Nwamokobia, they hope to meet enough employers to get their search going.


ROMANS: A special thanks to the first grade class of PS-41 in New York City for stopping by. We want to know what you think about class size, teacher quality, home prices, and the election, of course. Let's keep the conversation we started here this morning, let's keep it going all week. Find us on FaceBook and Twitter. Our handle is cnnbottomline. My handle is @christineromans.

Back now to CNN SATURDAY for the latest headlines. Have a great weekend, everyone.