A key government report Friday revealed the U.S. labor market improved modestly last month, but it appears to have expanded significantly late in 2012.
According to the Labor Department, employers added 157,000 workers to their payrolls in January. Upward revisions of previous data also reflected nearly 450,000 new jobs in the final two months of 2012.
Other developments this week, however, were less positive. The national unemployment rate ticked up one-tenth of a point in January to 7.9 percent. And the Commerce Department announced that U.S. Gross Domestic Product – the broadest measure of the economy – shrank in the fourth quarter for the first time in 3-and-a-half years.
Nevertheless, the mostly positive jobs report was welcomed on Wall Street and the Dow Jones industrial average settled above 14,000 Friday for the first time since October of 2007.
An improving economic outlook enables the Obama Administration to concentrate on other domestic priorities, like gun control. This week though, the President set his sights on immigration reform.
Former competitors for the presidency, Sen. John McCain and President Barack Obama, have spent much of the past four years butting heads on a series of domestic and international issues. This week in a pair of separate public appearances, the two appeared to find common ground on immigration.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: “We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve our food, clean our homes and even watch our children while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country great. I think everyone agrees that it's not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows.”
Speaking in the Latino-rich community of Las Vegas, the President echoed a sense of urgency on federal immigration reform.
President Barack Obama: “It requires us to act. I know that some issues will be harder to lift than others. Some debates will be more contentious. That's to be expected. But the reason I came here today is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling; where a broad consensus is emerging; and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America.”
The President’s full court press on an immigration overhaul has mobilized a series of advocacy groups, each hoping a comprehensive bill could meet a series of goals.
Rudy Arredondo, President, National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association: “What we have been discussing is a moratorium on deportations. We are in such a big hole that we've got to stop digging and that's one of the things that we are asking that there be a moratorium on any kinds of deportations. If we're going to be working on this, let's get serious. That's a serious, serious issue.”
The biggest development on immigration this week came from outside the White House as a bipartisan group of Senators including Republican Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York unveiled a framework for comprehensive reforms.
Sen. Chuck Schumer D-New York: "Our framework contains four basic pillars. First, we create a tough but fair path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders. Second, we reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families. Third, we create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity left and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers. And lastly, we establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation's workforce needs while simultaneously protecting all workers.”
The framework could have significant implications for rural America and immigrant workers drawn to low wage jobs in the agricultural sector.
Lorrette Picciano, Executive Director, Rural Coaltion: “It's a huge deal. And as my colleagues can note, the fact that there's not a comprehensive approach to immigration reform for all these many years has left many, many families in limbo for many years and in very uncertain economic conditions and we're very, very concerned. They've been waiting a long time.”
But a second term push for immigration reform has a muddled track record in presidential history. President Ronald Reagan passed a massive immigration overhaul in 1986 but critics lamented the policy as “amnesty” years later.
President George W. Bush used his diminished political capital for immigration reform in 2006 following a failed bid to overhaul Social Security. Despite some bipartisan support, the Bush bid fell victim to Republican congressional leaders and outside groups concerned about border security.
President Obama’s immigration prospects will likely depend on the success on the budding Senatorial “Gang of 8” and its ability to draw support from both sides of the aisle.
President Barack Obama: “…for first time in many years, Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together.”