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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor
November 7, 2003

Elaine Chao
Hello, I'm Secretary Chao. Good news today. As I said earlier, "Today's news of continued job growth and a drop in the unemployment rate is good news for workers and is another sign that the President's economic policies are turning the economy around. This month the economy created 126,000 jobs, bringing job creation in the past three months to 286,000 new jobs. Weekly claims for unemployment benefits have continued to fall and other economic indicators show that we are experiencing the strongest economic growth in nearly 20 years." Still, as the President has said, we are optimistic, but not complacent. We will not rest until every American who wants a job can find one. Even more jobs can be created when Congress acts on the President's Six-Point Plan for the Economy, which will make health insurance more affordable, reduce the lawsuit burden on the economy and allow employers and workers to plan for the future by making tax relief permanent."

Mike, from Flint writes:
What is the significance of today's job numbers?

Elaine Chao
Today’s numbers are great news for our economy and especially for America’s working families. Over the past three months, 286,000 jobs have been created. Third quarter economic growth was at the highest level in nearly 20 years and rising productivity is boosting the wages of workers. While we still have work to do, clearly all the economic signs point to strong economic growth.

And let’s not forget that business investment has picked up, the stock market has risen sharply over the past year, manufacturing activity is expanding, inflation is negligible, interest rates are at 40-year lows, and both consumer spending and personal income are up.

Vaughn, from New Mexico writes:
What role do you think the President's tax cuts had to do with the job growth?

Elaine Chao
I don’t think there is any doubt that tax relief was the right policy at the right time -- and remains the right policy today. By allowing Americans to keep more of what they earn, tax relief helped make the recession one of the shortest and shallowest on record - and it kept the unemployment rate lower than it otherwise would have been.

Tax relief has set the stage for the positive economic numbers we have seen recently, including the creation of 286,000 jobs over the past three months.

Rory, from Montpelier writes:
As a college graduate, where do you think the new jobs will be?

Elaine Chao
There are a number of industries that are expected to expand rapidly and create new jobs in this decade. These include high-tech manufacturing, health care, construction and transportation, to name a few. In fact this Administration has developed a special program-- the High Growth Job Training Initiative—to identify fast growing industries that are creating jobs and to help train workers with the skills they need to get their good paying jobs.

One of the things we’re doing is working to strengthen the connections between employers and educational institutions across the country to expand the opportunities for job training in high growth sectors. For example, there will be one million job openings for registered nurses alone by the end of this decade. We are working with community colleges to train and graduate more students for this profession. For more information on the High Growth job opportunities, you can visit your local One Stop Career Center, which you locate by calling 1-877-US2JOBS. You can also find useful information by visiting and on the Internet.

Ursula, from North Carolina writes:
I have mixed feelings, Mrs. Chao, about so-called free trade. It seems like we're losing workers. How do you help these people?

Elaine Chao
Free trade benefits our economy as a whole. But this Administration knows there are workers who have been harmed by trade and we have a plan to help these workers get the assistance they need as soon as possible.

That’s why we fought for reforms to what is called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). The TAA program provides workers with many services to get them through this difficult transition: job retraining, income support, and a tax credit to help with health insurance.

If a worker who is approaching retirement age loses his or her job because of trade, we have a special program that provides additional income support to get them to retirement.

Last year’s reforms provide a maximum benefit of $43,000 each for displaced workers. This Administration is committed to ensuring that no worker is left behind.

Kimberly, from Chicago writes:
How did you get to where you are now and what like to be a women in such a prestigious position? Do you have any advice to other career women, who aspire to have just as much success?

Elaine Chao
I believe that the ability to communicate effectively—both verbally and in writing-- is one of the keys to leadership and I practice and refine these skills constantly.

Whether you work in the public, private or non-profit sectors—and I have worked in all three—you must be able to communicate your vision to your co-workers clearly and persuasively. This is true for everyone—not just leaders.

Our workforce today is so diverse; we cannot assume that everyone thinks like we do. Clear communication is the glue that binds us together. It allows us to work smoothly with one another. No matter how technically accomplished a person is, if they cannot communicate effectively, they cannot be an effective manager.

The end result is that advancement opportunities will be limited. That’s why I always encourage my staff to strengthen their communication skills and provide training opportunities to help them hone these skills.

I would encourage young professional women to seek out opportunities for public speaking so they can develop this skill. If you haven’t done this before, start small. It doesn’t matter if you are making a presentation at work, at church or at a volunteer or hobby group—they are all opportunities to practice communicating your message to other people.

Michael, from Port Simpson writes:
In what areas of the economy were most of the jobs created in?

Elaine Chao
We saw job growth across a number of industries, including professional and business services, health care, hospitality, and retail trade.

Mary, from Annapolis writes:
Obviously everyone liked the GDP numbers last quarter, but how is this going to impact the job market?

Elaine Chao
Clearly the 7.2 percent rate of GDP growth in the third quarter was very encouraging. It is the fastest growth we have seen since 1984 and well above the 3.3% average since 1960! We are already seeing signs that this growth is impacting the job market.

Over the past three months, employers have created 286,000 jobs, including 126,000 in October, and initial unemployment claims have now fallen to the lowest level since January 2001. The President’s economic policies are paying off, and the job market is on the upswing.

Marrelli, from Florida writes:
A decrease in unemployment is good, but there are still a lot of people out there that need work. What specifically are you doing?

Elaine Chao
First of all, the President pushed two jobs and growth plans through the Congress—the results of which we are seeing now in accelerating economic growth and job creation.

In addition, President Bush has proposed a Six Point plan to create more growth and new jobs, which you can learn about on the White House Web site. In addition, the Department of Labor is following the President’s lead by:

1) Working to pass Personal Reemployment Accounts, which would give workers the flexibility to design their own program to acquire new skills. 2) Launching a High Growth Job Training Initiative to identify those sectors of the economy where strong job growth is projected and to train workers for careers in these industries. 3) Initiating regulatory reforms to clarify some of the nation’s employment laws and help employers free up resources that had been devoted to litigation. 4) Proposing the transformation of the $12 billion publicly funded workforce investment system into a job training system that trains workers for real jobs in the real world, instead of just processing them through a system.

Tad, from Northridge writes:
There are many different economic reports out there that get released it seems daily. what is the report on initial unemployment claims?

Elaine Chao
That is a great question. First time filings for unemployment are a very useful way of measuring what’s happening in the job market. There is a historical baseline number that economists use to determine how well the economy is doing in creating new jobs: a level below 400,000 generally means that the job market is improving. For the past several weeks, we have seen unemployment claims below that mark. Last week, for example, there were 348,000 claims — the lowest level since January 2001. Basically, this means the job situation is improving.

Connie, from Newport News VA writes:
Are the current unemployment rate and inflation rate consistent with your predicitions?

Elaine Chao
I try to avoid predictions like this, because as the President has said, one person unemployed is one person too many. We want to make sure that anyone who is still out of work can access the $12 billion public workforce system and get the training and assistance they need to get back to work. For more information, call 1-877-US2-JOBS to find out about available assistance and the location of the One-Stop Center nearest you.

Jordan, from Vail writes:
Jobless claims dropped as well I note -- big drop. But are you all cautioning us that this can't be sustained as well?

Elaine Chao
Today’s job report and the decline in jobless claims filed last week shows growth across many different industries and in all regions of the country. What we are seeing is really a broad-based recovery.

Elisabeth, from Graz writes:
Dear Mrs. Secretary, how often do You meet with the President?

Elaine Chao
I meet with the President whenever he wants! All kidding aside, we meet frequently, at Cabinet meetings, special events, and when we visit different regions of the country.

John, from Town, State writes:
Madam Secretary, What Federal, State, and Local laws are in place to protect retirees pensions from being altered or in someway changed. What rights do pensioners have. What steps will the president and the congress take to safeguard folk in their retirement years.


John Patrick Gallagher

Elaine Chao
An integral part of our mission at the Department of Labor is to protect the retirement security of American workers and their families. There are a number of different laws and regulations that help us enforce pension laws, and additional measures to protect 401(k) participants were included in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act the President signed last year. To check on the specific laws that protect you, contact our Employee Benefits Security Administration, either on the Web at or at 1-866.444.3272.

Jens, from Syracuse writes:
Actually, the news is good and bad, isn't it? The manufacturing sector lost 24,000 jobs. What is your take on this?

Elaine Chao
Thanks, Jens. We should remember that manufacturing as a share of our GDP has been declining for the past 40 years as we move towards a more service-based economy. Still, manufacturing losses slowed, and the report as a whole showed a large growth in jobs for October, which means that the economy has created 286,000 in the past three months. The President’s entire economic team is working hard to promote jobs in manufacturing, and Commerce Secretary Evans will be releasing a manufacturing strategy soon, which will provide a roadmap for our efforts.

Spencer, from Massachusetts writes:
I know that employment and the economy as a whole don't always move in sync. Do you and Treasury Secretary Snow compete over whose indicator is doing better, GDP or unemployment? If so, has he been gloating over recent economic news?

Elaine Chao
Secretary Snow and I are good friends, and we are part of the President’s economic team, along with Secretary Don Evans at the Commerce Department, which is actually where the GDP numbers come from. We don’t compete with each other, but instead try to work together to serve the President and the public as best we can.

barbara, from o writes:
who determines how many are unemployed? i don't believe anything is improving . anyone with a brain should be able to see this country is going broke

Elaine Chao
The unemployment rate is put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and today’s report showed that the economy created 286,000 jobs over the past three months. This complements other strong signs we have seen in our economy including the 7.2% increase in GDP last quarter, the rise in the stock market and rising wages and personal income. However, the Administration knows that there are still people who are suffering, and we have a number of ways to provide assistance, through our $12 billion public workforce system. To find out more about these programs, you can call 1-877-US2-Jobs.

Darin, from Washington, D.C. writes:
We're constantly hearing that manufacturing jobs are moving overseas. Is the situation really worse now that it was 10 years ago? What's the truth about jobs going overseas?

Elaine Chao
Good question, Darin. This is part of a longer-term trend. Manufacturing as a share of our GDP has been declining for the past 40 years as we shift to an economy based more on services. The good news is that in the latest jobs report, manufacturing losses slowed and the number of jobs overall increased by 126,000.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Elaine, I had the privilege of seeing you and Senator McConnell in Paducah, Kentucky during the President's recent visit there. I must say that it was an honor to have such a distinguished group visit us, and we in Kentucky are very proud of both you and Mitch in Washington (and of course President Bush). In reading your bio, I understand that you immigrated to this country at age 8. How do you think this influenced your opinions in understanding the American economy and labor issues? Also, our local economy has been impacted by some companies seeking to relocate to Mexico. Are there any incentives to keep companies employing workers in the U.S.? What has been the impact of NAFTA (either positive or negative) upon our economy? Thank you

Elaine Chao
Wasn’t the event in Paducah wonderful? What a turnout for the President and now Governor-elect Ernie Fletcher! My arrival as an immigrant to this country has given me a profound sense of empathy and understanding of the challenges that newcomers to our country encounter. My early experience has given me great motivation to help create hope and opportunity for everyone in our country.

Regarding the second part of your question, free markets and trade as a whole have been beneficial to our economy and workforce. However, the Administration understands that some workers are negatively impacted by trade, and we want to help these workers get back on their feet as quickly as possible. That’s why we fought for an expanded trade adjustment assistance program that provides retraining, income support, and help with the cost of health insurance.

Raul, from Florida writes:
Where do you go to learn more about training centers?

Elaine Chao
We have a network of more than 3,000 “One Stop Centers” all across the country, at which you can access a whole array of employment services, such as training, job searches, help with resumes, you name it. We also operate America’s Job Bank, which has more than 1 million available jobs listed for people with a broad range of education and skills. You can access all of these services by calling 1-877-US2-JOBS or by visiting on the Internet.

Elaine Chao
Thanks for all the great questions today. It's been a pleasure joining you and sharing the good news about job creation, training and economic growth. It's clear the President's policies are working and now it's up to Congress to pass the President's 6-point economic plan to keep the economy moving forward. Elaine

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