White House economic adviser speaks at Northwestern

Kaitlin Svabek/Daily senior staffer
Alan Krueger (left), President Barack Obama's chief economic adviser, and University President Morton Schapiro (right) share a laugh before Krueger's remarks Monday in Norris University Center. Schapiro told The Daily that Krueger is a "wonderful economist."

Patrick Svitek, Online Managing Editor

President Barack Obama’s chief economic adviser arrived Monday at Northwestern bearing familiar news — and excusing himself for sounding like a broken record.

“The U.S. economy is slowly healing,” Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told nearly 400 attendees in the McCormick Auditorium in Norris University Center. “Every month when the unemployment rate comes out, I put out about the same statement because I think it happens to be accurate. We are recovering from the worst recession we’ve had since the Great Depression.”

Krueger’s remarks during the Institute for Policy Research’s Distinguished Public Policy Lecture closely tracked his monthly take on the unemployment rate, which dropped from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September.

In a statement shortly after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released last week’s jobs numbers, Krueger stuck to a script that could have been mistaken for his on-campus comments.

“While there is more work that remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” Krueger said in the statement.

Krueger reportedly walks the monthly jobs report to the West Wing on the night before its public release Friday morning, making him the final messenger of the most important piece of economic data during an election year.

University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily that he does not envy Krueger’s position.

“(He’s) kind of in a tough situation with the election so close,” Schapiro said. “You have to be careful what you say.”

A purple tie-clad Krueger paid homage to NU throughout the 75-minute event, which featured two Q-and-A sessions — one with moderator and IPR director David Figlio, and the other with audience members.

Krueger cited NU Prof. Dale Mortensen’s Nobel Prize-winning research about the minimum wage and recalled accepting Figlio’s first article for the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

At the end, Krueger chided Figlio for gifting him a coffee mug commemorating the IPR’s 40th birthday. Krueger said Obama would probably prefer a different number as the 44th president.

Krueger covered little territory that did not have to do with the commander-in-chief.

“The way I describe my job is I’m an economic consultant and I have one client, and the client is the president,” Krueger said.

He did not miss the opportunity to remind students of his boss’s signature accomplishments aimed at young voters.

Over the summer, Congress cobbled together a $127 billion package that extended interest rates on subsidized student loans for a year. The rates were expected to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent July 1.

Krueger mentioned four times in an hour that Obama pushed for the temporary freeze on interest rates for Stafford loans, which one-third of NU students received last school year.

“It’s particularly important that we do have a level playing field when it comes to the opportunity for children to get a good education to go on to post-secondary education,” Krueger said. “That’s one of the reasons why we create Pell Grants so much. That’s one of the reasons why the president fought to keep student interest rates low.”

Krueger’s arrival on campus coincided with another political flashpoint: the growing chorus of headline-grabbing Republicans who have questioned the credibility of the monthly jobs report.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch speculated in a tweet Friday that the White House is manipulating the jobs numbers to boost Obama’s re-election prospects. Business magnate Donald Trump echoed Welch’s theory Monday, contending that Obama’s campaign “did … a lot of monkey business” with the BLS statistics.

“(Welch’s) claims were irresponsible,” Krueger told The Daily after Monday’s forum. “As I said, no serious person who understands how government statistical agencies work would doubt the integrity of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”