February job numbers are out and unemployment is steady at 8.3%, African-American unemployment continues to remain in double digits and Americans racked up billions in credit card debt since last year.
This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features Sonya Ross, race and ethnicity editor for the Associated Press; Sirius XM Radio’s “The Black Eagle,” Joe Madison; Sirius XM Radio talk show host and political scientist Wilmer Leon; and political commentator and host of “The Right Side,” Armstrong Williams.
MR. MARTIN: Very interesting week as – as we look at politics, but most importantly, the job numbers. Unemployment really didn’t move, but what do you make of the numbers themselves? And will it sort of help this president? Will it aid the Republicans in their contention that he’s not doing enough for the economy?
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: I thi- — I think it helps the President that – this week that he, despite his party’s pro- — protest, he supported Cantor* in the jobs bill. It shows bipartisan support. It shows that the relationship is not as frosty as it used to be. And while the job numbers are sort of unpredictable right now, I think it’s a very good sign that the President is showing that he’s willing to cross the aisle and show [true] partnersh- — [bi]partisanship. Even though Nancy Pelosi said that it won’t do much, I think it’s a step in the right direction; and I think, on the job market, we have to wait and see.
MR. JOE MADISON: I find it interesting that Armstrong would say the President’s willing to cross the aisle. The President’s been crossing the aisle ever since he’s been in office. I think when he stopped was when he realized that he was running into obstructionist legislators who said they weren’t going to cooperate with him.
But to answer your question directly, it – it has been for the last three years [that] the jobs numbers [have] been going in the right direction. It’s still 8.3 percent. Now, that’s general. But this being “Washington Watch,” we still have a major, major problem with Black unemployment –
MR. MARTIN: Of course.
MR. MADISON: — and that’s what I – I think he’s going to at some point focus on in order to motivate those of us who supported him initially. He’s got to do something about this unemployment in the Black community.
MS. ROSS: Jobs got created – correct?
MR. MARTIN: Yep.
MS. ROSS: That always helps a president – regardless. When the job creation stagnates, Repub- — presidents suffer. Republican or Democrat, they suffer. So, as long as there’s been job creation, the President gets a benefit out of it.
MR. MARTIN: It’s always interesting to me whe- — how this conversation sort of just moves back and forth, and I do think it is wrong when we somehow believe that we should base everything on what happens just when it comes to this number, because if we look at where the stock market was when he – his first three or four months in office, where it went down, all of a sudden you’re flirting with 13,000. It closed at 13,000 – you know, back and forth. And so the normal economic indicators that presidents have always trumped, when it comes to this president, for some reason it’s sort of like, “Yeah, but that stuff doesn’t even really matter.”
MR. LEON: Well, a lot of that has to do with the fact that, no matter what he does, it’s wrong in – in terms of his opposition – from the perspective of his o- — of his opposition. Even now, positive-trending numbers that have been trending, to Joe’s point – and I have been saying this for a very long time: so long as the numbers are trending in the right direction – because, remember, the question was, “Can the President win reelection with 8½ percent unemployment?” And the answer that I was saying months and months ago was, yes, if the numbers continue to trend in the right direction” – and he is able to put together a narrative that explains why that happens, and he is able to stick to that narrative.
And so the numbers are trending in – unemployment is trending in the right direction. Housing starts are trending in the right direction. Manufacturing is trending in the right direction. And as you-all – you hear me say all the time, “Can they sell it?” is going to be their biggest issue.
MR. MARTIN: One thing I saw – very interesting. I was reading this story. A n- — new study by cardhub.com* says that Americans racked up some $48 billion in credit card debt last year, and that was a 424 percent increase than what was incurred in 2010. And one of the things that I thought, and I – I’d hoped that we had learned in this whole lesson over the last three or four years, is that individuals cannot continue to be in a situation to buy what they cannot afford, to live beyond their means; because otherwise, we’ll – we will find ourselves right back in the same situation.
Are you getting a sense that folks are saying, “Okay. If things are getting to be better, so let me go back to the things” – “how I used to operate”?
MR. LEON: No. That’s access to capital. For a lot of people who have lost their jobs, for a lot of people who may have tapped out their savings accounts, they’re now turning to credit in order to keep the boat afloat. One of the things, in looking at those numbers, [I] would be interested to drill down and see how much of that is cash advance versus – versus spending on television sets and other – other – other consumable –
MR. MARTIN: But I –
MR. LEON: — items.
MR. MARTIN: — do believe the new normal really has to be, I think, the lesson learned through all of this whole stuff, is people saying, “You know what? If I just can’t afford it, I shouldn’t buy it.” I think a lot of people – I – the sense from talking to folks [is], “You know what? It was nuts what I was doing for the last five, ten years. I had to have learned my lesson somehow.”
MR. WILLIAMS: You – you —
MR. MADISON: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
MR. WILLIAMS: — you know, I actually think that people are becoming more responsible and accountable. I think that re- — they realize that we all have been diminished in this economy. And I think something that other people realize – you know, we keep talking about the President creating jobs – and sometimes I’m guilty of this – but, you know, the President really can’t create jobs.
MR. MARTIN: No.
MR. WILLIAMS: That’s not the role –
MR. MARTIN: Democrat or –
MR. WILLIAMS: — of the President.
MR. MARTIN: — Republican.
MR. WILLIAMS: Repu- — they cannot create jobs. It’s the economy. It’s the business owners. You’ve got to encourage them.
But in terms of the consumers spending money, you’re going to have your segment of consumers that’s going to spend money, regardless of what the economy is, whether –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. WILLIAMS: — they can afford it or not. But the other part of that is if you’re not spending money, it affects the economy and the indi- — economic indicators.
MR. MARTIN: And – and that’s the – that’s the thing I think is so important when I listen to all of these folks – these business folks talk about it. When 70 percent of our economy is based upon consumer spending –
MR. WILLIAMS: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — and then we have the conversations about the need to save and the need not to rack up debt, the reality is our nation has to thrive on debt.
MR. MADISON: Well, you – let’s go back to your original question, and that was, “Have we not learned this lesson?” And here’s what tends to happen. People who are in debt get solicited more –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. MADISON: — to have more debt.
MR. MARTIN: And, actually, part –
MR. MADISON: They –
MR. MARTIN: — part of this study showed that the credit –
MR. MADISON: — and that’s –
MR. MARTIN: — card companies increase –
MR. MADISON: — exactly what – [crosstalk].
MR. MARTIN: — their advertising.
MR. MADISON: Let me – let me tell you. When – when I was running debt and had credit card this, credit card that, that’s when I got more offers to get more credit cards. Now, as soon as I paid off all m- — Sears and paid off everybody, all of a sudden I don’t get solicited anymore. And that’s what happens.
So, the best thing we can do, sitting up here, is we have to educate our people –
MR. MARTIN: That’s right.
MR. MADISON: — that, “Look. Don’t be a sucker. Pay with” – “Live within your means.” Nobody’s saying, “Don’t buy,” but live within your means.
MR. WILLIAMS: [Crosstalk]- —
MR. MADISON: If we can get that –
MR. WILLIAMS: — but – but –
MR. MADISON: — message –
MR. WILLIAMS: — guess what –
MR. MADISON: — across –
MR. WILLIAMS: — else he’s saying? Those that have less – it’s a major industry in this country.
MR. MADISON: That’s –
MR. WILLIAMS: Credit –
MR. MADISON: — right.
MR. WILLIAMS: — card companies and industries could not thrive if those that – who have less did not spend money.
OFF CAMERA: ’Cause they don’t want –
MR. WILLIAMS: They’d go out of business!
MS. ROSS: Well, we –
MR. MARTIN: They prey – p-r-e-y –
MR. MADISON: Yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — on – on folks like that.
MR. MADISON: They don’t –
MS. ROSS: — we should –
MR. MADISON: — want Armstrong Williams.
MS. ROSS: — ignore the –
MR. MADISON: You know, he’s that –
MS. ROSS: — significance –
MR. MADISON: — one percent. [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: Sonya, go ahead.
MS. ROSS: — we should not ignore the significant thing that Wilmer said, which is, “What are people doing with the credit cards?” Are they getting a cash advance so they can rob Peter to pay Paul?
MR. MADISON: Yeah.
MS. ROSS: Or, are they running out, buying a big screen, or are they using it to buy food, gas and clothing – ostensibly, to get the points back –
MR. LEON: And especially with –
MS. ROSS: — those who have –
MR. LEON: — gas prices –
MS. ROSS: — those cards?
MR. LEON: — going up, it’s – it – it – we’d have to look at the numbers to see how much of that are Sunoco and – and – and Gulf Oil and – and cr- — and gas credit cards –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. LEON: — as people now are using a greater portion of their income –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. LEON: — just to get to work and get their kids to –
MR. MARTIN: Joe.
MR. LEON: — school every –
MR. MADISON: And –
MR. LEON: — day.
MR. MADISON: — look at – look at the – look at those folks that sh- — that stood in line to get $300 pair of – of glow- —
MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you!
MR. MADISON: — -in-the-dark te- —
MR. WILLIAMS: Thank –
MR. MADISON: — you know, shoes.
MR. WILLIAMS: — [crosstalk] – to hurt each other.
MR. MADISON: And –
MR. MARTIN: Causing riots.
MR. MADISON: — they – they – [crosstalk]- — causing riots.
MR. WILLIAMS: Yeah.
MR. MADISON: And – and, you know, now, some of them may be entrepreneurs, and they’re going to resell them –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. MADISON: — on eBay –
MR. WILLIAMS: [Chuckles.]
MR. MADISON: — but the reality is they had to have money somewhere, and I wonder how much of that was plastic.
MR. MARTIN: Right. A- — a- —
MS. ROSS: You can’t forget that not too long ago, banks weren’t lending, period.
MR. MARTIN: — right.
MS. ROSS: But beyond extending lines of credit to people –
MR. MARTIN: But the r- —
MS. ROSS: — they just weren’t –
MR. MARTIN: — bu- —
MS. ROSS: — lending.
MR. MARTIN: — the reason I wanted to raise this, though, is because – specifically for Black folks –
MR. MADISON: That’s right.
MR. MARTIN: — I want us to have learned the lesson. And that is, look. There used to be a thing called layaway. People used to hate it if –
MR. LEON: Which is –
MR. MARTIN: — you were a kid.
MR. LEON: — coming back now.
MS. ROSS: Layaway is –
MR. MARTIN: But gue- —
MS. ROSS: — back now.
MR. MARTIN: — but guess –
MS. ROSS: Don’t r- — [chuckles] –
MR. MARTIN: — wha- — becau- — wha- — but what happened? Ge- — they got rid of layaway because you could buy with a credit card. All I’m saying is we got into this trouble because people were saying, “I’m trying to keep up with the Joneses.” I always say, “If you want to keep up with the Joneses, go marry a Jones,” but stop sitting here basically becoming a slave to debt. And we’re in the exact, same situation –
MR. MADISON: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — we’ve been in for the longest. That is detrimental –
MR. MADISON: Live within –
MR. MARTIN: — our community.
MR. MADISON: — your means.
MR. MARTIN: Absolutely.
MR. MADISON: That’s the key.