Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
The U.S. economy continues to show signs of improvement, although just how the recovery is gauged may require new interpretation.
On the plus side, retail spending, construction spending, and wholesale inventories all enjoyed big gains in November. But to most analysts, the weak job market remains a big concern. Without solid job creation, they argue, the economic recovery is unsustainable.
To be sure, the unemployment rate may be dropping, but the government reports only 1,000 new jobs were added to the economy in December. That's news that sent equities markets tumbling on Friday.
That the job market functions differently now than it did before the 2001 recession is no secret. Service sector jobs have become especially hard to fill. With that in mind, and with an eye toward re-election, President Bush this week proposed sweeping changes in immigration law to help plug the job market gaps.
President George Bush: "This program will offer legal status as temporary workers to the millions of undocumented men and women and those now employed and to those in foreign countries who seek to participate in the program and who have been offered employment here."
The president's proposal, which needs the approval of Congress, would be a boon to small businesses, the service industry and agriculture. Those are sectors of the economy all wanting a guest-worker program for hard-to-fill jobs.
In agriculture, the federal government estimates 52% of agricultural workers are undocumented. Farm labor and industry groups put the estimate much higher -- closer to 85%.
The president's proposal would allow workers to travel freely between the U.S. and the country in which they live. The legal working status would be valid for just a few years, but could be renewed.
President George Bush: "This program expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the United States has expired. And there should be financial incentives for them to do so."
Incentives would include access to Social Security payments and a special savings plan. Such incentives will be crucial, according to some critics of the proposal. The director of the University of California at San Diego Center for Immigration Studies says "the existing, informal, unauthorized labor market ... works very efficiently and to the benefit of both workers and employers. What's in the new system for them?"
The announcement comes just the week before Bush travels to Mexico to visit with President Vicente Fox about the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.