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CNN NEWSROOM

Examining the President's Plan for Health Care; Unemployment Rates Rise to 8.1 Percent; Without a Paycheck: Can Career Counseling Help You; Drug Violence Leads to Mexico Travel Alert; Jobless in America

Aired March 6, 2009 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Two lines, one story. Jobs. Losing them and looking for them. Just in now, unemployment rate hits historic high. We'll watch for market reaction.

Plus, where the jobs are now. How CNN.com can help you hunt.

And is President Obama taking on too much?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Under these circumstances, I think it's important, it's urgent that the president focus - he and his team focus like, with laser-like intensity on this economy. They have to stop the bleeding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Former White House counselor David Gergen says the economy is still "ISSUE #1".

It is Friday, March 6th. I'm Heidi Collins. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And first up this morning. Another day, another body blow to the economy. Just minutes ago, we learned 651,000 Americans lost their jobs last month. Those numbers even worse than expected.

Our unemployment now stands at 8.1 percent. It's the highest jobless rate in more than a quarter of a century. It's a lot to get a handle on. So we are helping you sort it all out.

Christine Romans is part of the CNN money team. Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House for us this morning. Go ahead and begin now with Christine.

What does it all mean? We keep throwing these numbers around but this time, we are talking about real people, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It means that real people are losing their job at an incredibly quick pace and they are a very difficult time, Heidi, finding another job, whether you work at the truck stop, at the mall, at the supermarket, a financial services firm. Across the spectrum, people are losing jobs. And it was worse in December and January than we thought. In December the job loss was 681,000 for one month. That was the worse since 1948. Think of it. Since this economy was going through the transition of moving from a war economy to a peace economy and all of those rosy riveters and people working in the...

COLLINS: Yes.

ROMANS: ... heavy industries are losing their jobs back then.

COLLINS: Yes. Any indication at this point of how long it will last? I mean if we keep seeing these numbers getting worse, is that an indication that we're in for a really long haul here?

ROMANS: Economists tell me - Lakshman Achuthan, who we really respect and use frequently, who is quoted here at CNN, now he says expect the deluge of job cuts to continue this year. We know that December was worse than we thought. We know that January was worse than we thought. Remember, we brought you that news in December and January?

COLLINS: Yes.

ROMANS: And in fact now, the government has revised those numbers to be even worse. We know now that 8.1 percent of the labor force is out of work, the highest since 1983. It's a toughest situation, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes. How widespread are we talking, too? Because we really like to offer people ideas about what industries are in better shape than others. Maybe they can retrain, maybe they can go there?

ROMANS: It's pretty widespread, the pain. There are a couple of areas where there are some jobs being created. The government created 9,000 jobs. Also, there were jobs created in health care, in hospitals, in particular, and also in outpatient centers, so those are where we did see some job creation.

We told you before that education, health care and the government are the places where we have seen jobs growth. But consider this. A lot of folks are cutting temporary jobs. Temporary jobs have shrunk, I think, 25 percent, 27 percent since the beginning of the recession and they dropped here again.

So people are having a hard time parking themselves someplace, even finding the, quote/unquote, "survival job" after they've lost their job. We know that companies are offering furloughs, two weeks, say, in the summer without pay to try to prevent job cuts.

COLLINS: Yes.

ROMANS: We know that they're cutting work weeks. We know that they are offering pay cuts. So beyond just the number of people losing their jobs, you're feeling this in other ways where you work.

COLLINS: Yes. No question. All right. Thanks so much. Christine Romans, appreciate that from New York this morning.

Jobs are also the focus today for the president hits the road. Let's get the very latest now from the White House and our correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, good morning to you. The administration certainly can't be too happy with these numbers.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not, Heidi. This is something that officials actually expected that the news was going to be pretty bad this morning.

Now we don't have an official statement from the White House yet, as is the tradition. They will go ahead and release a formal statement after 9:30. They do not want to influence the markets before they open but there'll be a paper statement.

Also the president is going to address this when he travels to Columbus, Ohio. Essentially the main point that he's going to make is that this really underscores the need for that economic stimulus package, the $787 billion stimulus package that the president at least is making his argument this case that it will allow them to save up to 3.5 million jobs, Heidi

COLLINS: All right. We'll be watching very closely in Ohio, of course, to hear what he has to say about this.

Suzanne Malveaux in front of the White House for us this morning. Thanks, Suzanne.

So stick around because we are going to have live coverage of President Obama's remarks on jobs and the economic recovery plan. That will be scheduled for 11:00 a.m. Eastern, 8:00 Pacific. And we're going to bring it to you live from Columbus, Ohio.

Now in this economy, losing your paycheck may be the biggest fear most of us have. CNN.com goes in-depth to tell you where the jobs are. So make sure you check out our home page. That link includes information about upcoming job fairs all around the country, tips on getting a job and keeping one, very important.

Plus, advice from experts who say don't listen to all the hype. Interesting. We're also hearing from iReporters and what they are finding on the job trail.

Here's one secret to success.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEAN LINDSAY, CNN IREPORTER: So what did I do to get a job interview? I called, I asked if they had received my application. I expressed the fact that I needed to give them more information about my skill set, and as I got talking with the gentleman who's in charge of hiring, he said, why don't you come on in for an interview?

No accident there. I had a smile in my voice. I was confident, upbeat, and enthusiastic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Excellent. All right. At the bottom of the hour, we keep our focus on where the jobs are. Our Gerri Willis will be joining us live from a career counseling center.

A controversial $410 billion spending bill hits a snag in the Senate. This is the bill we've been talking about with about $8 billion in earmarks. Republicans and a few Democrats are mad about all that pork barrel spending. That led members from both parties to push President Obama to veto the bill.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid says the measure will be opened up for changes next week in an effort to gain more support. The bill is a hold-over from the last administration. It's intended to keep the government up and running through September.

A manhunt is under way in Ohio. Police in Cleveland are looking for a man who may have killed his new wife and four children late last night. The children range in age from 3 to 14. A fifth child was wounded in the shootings. Police believe the man is armed. They say they have eyewitnesses to the shootings.

So we'll keep you updated on that.

Commercial airlines in South Korea are now taking the long way around. They are changing routes this morning to avoid North Korea. The move immediately impacts flights to the U.S. Yesterday, North Korea warned it could no longer ensure the safety of planes passing near its airspace. This adds to speculation by the U.S. and South Korea that North Korea is planning to test-launch a missile.

Shocking details coming out in the case against singer Chris Brown. What do police say happened between him and his girlfriend Rihanna? We've got the new court documents.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Chris Brown will have to face a judge again next month. He is charged with two felonies on what Los Angeles police describe as a brutal attack against his girlfriend singer Rihanna.

Our entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson has more details now about the case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BROWN, R&B SINGER: Yes, ma'am.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A somber Chris Brown made his first court appearance to face charges he beat up his girlfriend, fellow R&B star, Rihanna. His arraignment was put off until next month. At that time, he'll enter a plea to two felony counts, assault and making criminal threats. Earlier in the day, the court released an affidavit from an LAPD detective with shocking details of the alleged assault that left Rihanna bruised and bloody. According to the affidavit, the altercation began after Brown and Rihanna left a pre-Grammy party in a Lamborghini.

They argued when Rihanna discovered a text message on his cell phone from another woman. Brown pulled the car over and tried to push her out, but a seat belt kept her fastened inside. Brown then shoved Rihanna's head against the car window and punched her in the left eye, the affidavit says.

He drove off, continuing to punch her in the face with his right hand, while steering the vehicle with his left hand. The assault caused her mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle. The report further states Brown bit her ear, put her in a headlock and threatened to kill her.

BROOKS: Yes.

ANDERSON: Brown has publicly said he's sorry for what happened and he received a warning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are ordered not to annoy, harass, molest, threaten, or use force or violence against anyone.

ANDERSON: The order does not bar him from seeing Rihanna.

DONALD ETRA, RIHANNA'S ATTORNEY: The one issue that arose in court concerning her rights is whether or not the court should issue a stay-away order in this case. Rihanna requested that no such order be issued.

ANDERSON: That may add credence to reports the couple has reconciled since the incident. If true, it may complicate the district attorney's efforts to prosecute the case.

Brooke Anderson, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: A 16-year-old is arrested after police say he attacked his school bus driver. It happened Tuesday in Kalamazoo Township, Michigan. Take a look at the surveillance video now the police have released. Investigators say the young man was upset over how the driver was doing her job and started punching her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF TIM BOURGEOUIS, KALAMAZOO TOWNSHIP POLICE: She has some severe contusions and lacerations, bruises to her face and one of her fingers is broken.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now, I just continue to pray for the bus driver and my son, you know? I don't condone what he do. Everybody may disagree with what he do, but I want my son to know that I love him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: The husband of the bus driver told News Channel 3 in Kalamazoo he knows the teenager and thinks perhaps he should be tried as an adult.

A British government official got a face full of green custard this morning compliments of an environmental protester. Check this out. Here's the video. Business secretary Peter - whoa - Mandelson was getting out of his car when he was slimed.

The custard-throwing woman is protesting Mandelson's role in approving a new third runway for London's Heathrow Airport.

Try to listen what she said there.

She wasn't arrested because police say there was no complaint lodged. Mandelson says he doesn't want to bother with adolescent protests.

Reynolds Wolf joining us now in the Severe Weather Center.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: Yes, and the good stuff, too. Definitely.

WOLF: No question.

COLLINS: Hey, no matter what flavor it is. Listen, Reynolds, stick around because the story is so great.

A teacher who volunteers to welcome troops home from Iraq on a big surprise yesterday. A chance to welcome home her own husband. Great video, too. Alicia Young didn't know that her husband Sergeant Matthew Young had arranged the surprise with her principal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. MATTHEW YOUNG, U.S. ARMY: When we leave, they have to take over for everything that we do, so their full-time mom, full-time dad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Never get enough of those.

On President Obama's agenda, overhauling the health care system. What will it take to find the right remedy? Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Former first lady Barbara Bush is in a Houston hospital this morning. She is recovering from surgery to replace the aortic valve to her heart. Her husband, George H.W. Bush took back tears at a news conference yesterday with her surgeons. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: It went so well and I've been a nervous wreck about it. Today, we heard from four presidents of the United States. Obama, Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush. George W. Bush and me, five. And I think there's a lot of interest because of who she is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: The 83-year-old Mrs. Bush is expected to be released from the hospital's intensive care unit tomorrow. We'll keep you updated on her condition.

A man who has made a career out of making people laugh now faces a serious prospect of heart surgery. Comedian Robin Williams will have an aortic valve replacement the same surgery as Barbara Bush just had. Now publicist for Williams did not say when or where the surgery would take place. The 57-year-old comedian postponed his tour and went into the hospital this week after suffering from a shortness of breath.

Well, as you well know, President Obama is out to fix health care. Certainly no easy task.

Want to go in and check in our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta now to talk more about this.

Sanjay, we know you're on the front lines of this issue. You're a physician, you're a surgeon in a county hospital so we want to talk about this with you.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

COLLINS: But first, I hear you made a decision. What's the deal?

GUPTA: Yes. You know, it was an incredibly flattering process to be considered for surgeon general. You've sort of gone along - I've been talking about it for sometime so I feel like you've seen at all transpire.

I think for me and for my wife, it just was not the ideal time. I think - we're expecting and I literally might have to walk off the set here because...

COLLINS: I know. We're waiting for the phone to ring.

GUPTA: ... my wife is expecting any minute.

COLLINS: Your third child, yes.

GUPTA: Third child. Third daughter. Three girls.

COLLINS: That's right. GUPTA: And so that was definitely a consideration. I think this job takes us away so much from our families and living in a different city, I think, would have just been so hard. That was one thing. You know, the other thing is, you know, ironically, you just mentioned being a surgeon at a county hospital. Ironically, being a surgeon general makes it very hard to actually be a surgeon anymore.

COLLINS: You don't get to do what you love anymore.

GUPTA: You don't get to do that. You don't get to practice.

COLLINS: Yes.

GUPTA: I love taking care of patients who need it the most. And I just felt that this was not the ideal time to do this sort of thing. And...

COLLINS: Well, we're darn proud of you...

GUPTA: Appreciate it.

COLLINS: ... as friends and as colleagues that you were considered. And so we're going to be selfish, though, because we are certainly glad to have you here.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COLLINS: Especially right now when we are talking about the $6234 billion health care reform plan.

Take us through a little bit about the process. Because I know that you have actually spoken with President Obama himself.

GUPTA: Yes.

COLLINS: How is this going to work?

GUPTA: Well, first of all, you know, what we're talking about here in terms of health reform is something that has been talked about for generations.

COLLINS: Yes.

GUPTA: You know this is not a new debate. Teddy Roosevelt...

COLLINS: But they keep saying it's different this time.

GUPTA: They do say it's different and it's different for reasons that people might not suspect. For example, health care and the economy, the case is being made by the administration, including the president, that these are inextricably linked.

In fact, if you can boost health care, if you can improve health care, it's going to help the economy. That's the argument that's being made and it's an important one because everyone is so focused on this economy right now. If you break it down a little bit further they really look at two things more than anything else - cost and access.

When it comes to access, a lot of people talk about the number of 46 million people being uninsured.

COLLINS: Uninsured, yes.

GUPTA: There's another way to think about it as well. 1 in 3 Americans under the age of 65 went without health insurance at some point last year. So now that is an important thing to keep in mind because that leads to poor - less access to care, poorer health conditions and increased costs.

Speaking of costs, if you bring down costs - and again, this is the administration's argument - you can start to insure more people.

COLLINS: Access. Yes.

GUPTA: It's less expensive so you can improve access. I was just in India, I was talking to you about that. I don't know if you know this but 750,000 people leave the United States every year to go get operations in other countries.

COLLINS: I do.

GUPTA: Primary reason? Cost.

COLLINS: Cheap.

GUPTA: Yes. It can be one-tenth the cost of what it is than the in the United States. The question is why, what lessons are to be learned, how can we start to bring down costs here while still, you know, offering very good care?

COLLINS: Yes. And these are all components of what needs to be done, according to the administration. Do you think it's realistic, first of all, for him to be handling health care at the same time as the economy, number one? And number two, is it really going to be reform of the entire health care system?

GUPTA: Well, as far as realistic, I mean I think that it depends - you know, it depends on your perspective, I think, and you're hearing a lot of different perspectives and you will probably over the days and months to come. But it really depends if you believe and you're in the mindset that you can't fix the economy without fixing health care. And that's going to be a decision point that I think that we come to as a country.

As far as fixing the whole system, this is probably the second question that people are going to start to have to answer. Do you basically scratch this whole system, say, look, this never really worked well, throw it away, start from the beginning?

COLLINS: Yes.

GUPTA: Or do you say, you know what, it works well for some people in this country, but for those people who it doesn't work well, we have to target what's broken without trying to revamp the whole thing? And that - that's another critical issue. It's probably going to be answered...

COLLINS: Sure.

GUPTA: ... in a lot of these discussions.

COLLINS: And then all of that goes back to costs. Always does. Yes.

GUPTA: And especially in this environment.

COLLINS: Yes. And you know what, we're doing something new here on the CNN NEWSROOM. Between 9/11 we kind of developed this thing called "Snapshot across America."

GUPTA: Yes.

COLLINS: And we're taking the different issues that are being tackled by the administrations and today, of course, we are talking about health care. So we have a couple of people who are in the meeting yesterday when...

GUPTA: Great.

COLLINS: ... all of this was unveiled and that we're going to talk about a little bit later on in our 10:00 hour. So stick around for that.

GUPTA: We'll keep on top of it. Yes.

COLLINS: All right, Sanjay, thank you so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COLLINS: A five-time cancer survivor is giving a gift to other patients and their families. Furniture store owner Bob Israels redecorated a cancer center waiting room at his own expense. He's included chairs with a germ-resistant fabric called krypton (ph) and a seating area for families.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHAEL ZAKEN, ONCOLOGIST: He says what he went through and trying to optimize what he would have wanted.

BOB ISRAELS, CANCER SURVIVOR: What I'm really trying to do is give the patients that are there the opportunity to feel relaxed and relaxation is a real important part when you're going through some very stressful treatments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Bob Israels' good works go beyond the cancer center, though. The "Grand Rapids Press" reports he's redeveloped buildings and that has created jobs for many people in the community. A spring break scare for college students. Warned to avoid Mexico because of a rise in beheadings. We'll hear from some of the spring breakers who went anyway.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: All right. Just a couple of seconds ago, President Barack Obama was getting off Marine One there at Andrews Air Force Base, getting ready to hop on Air Force One to go to Columbus, Ohio.

And just as we say that we hear the opening bell for a Friday. Getting ready to round out yet another crazy week on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. So, as always, we'll be watching those numbers and watching them very, very closely.

In fact, the Dow has fallen now more than 6.5 percent this week alone. So today, we've got another brutal jobs report to talk about and wondering what, if any, effect that will have on the numbers.

Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange now with a look and reaction on Wall Street.

Hi, there, Susan.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. We're seeing a little bit of buying in the first few seconds of trading. Why is that? Well, Wall Street, a lot of it is about expectations, and these numbers distressing not completely unexpected for some of them.

Of course, leading up to it, the major averages tumbling four percent yesterday sending the Dow and S&P 500 to fresh 12-year lows. Stock futures were lower ahead of the jobs released, but flattened out after the jobs numbers were announced. Exactly how bad was it? 651,000 jobs lost last month alone. That basically in line with the estimate.

But the losses from December and January were revised to be much worse than originally reported. The December figure, in fact, of 681,000 is the highest since 1949. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate soaring to 8.1 percent. A 25-year high. Construction, manufacturing, professional services hit hardest. Education, health services, the government, the only sectors hiring, and it's been that way for months now.

We're watching shares of General Motors yet again today. They slid 15 percent yesterday amid new bankruptcy fears. The Wall Street Journal says GM is now more open to a speedy reorg financed by the government. The automakers shares right now down another nine percent, about $1.68 for GM, one GM share.

Finally, Wells Fargo following the lead of other major banks slashing its dividend by 85 percent. The bank says that will save it $5 billion a year. Wells Fargo shares up nearly seven percent.

Overall, yes, a little bit of buying. The Dow Industrials up 45 points. 6640 is the level. The NASDAQ, meanwhile, is up 8 points or two-thirds of one percent. The Dow, the Nasdaq, the S&P 500, all down more than 50 percent since this bear market began in late '07 which, Heidi Collins, I know you see the glass is half full, which means stocks are cheap. If you have...

COLLINS: Right.

LISOVICZ: You know, like, for instance, one share of GM now cheaper than a gallon of gas. One share of office depot couldn't buy a box of paper clips at the store. One share of GM couldn't buy you two of the companies compact fluorescent light bulbs. And for an encore, Heidi, I know you like this last week. One share of Citigroup could not cover its own ATM fee. Stocks are cheap. Think of it that way.

COLLINS: You've got to be kidding. All right, well, yes, because that is good. All right.

LISOVICZ: At some point, you know, we'll all get in there, and say we missed it. We missed the buying opportunity.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes. Well, if you want to do that, it's definitely there for the taking right now.

LISOVICZ: That's right. Or you can look at it as a falling knife, and you don't want to get in the way of a falling knife, too.

COLLINS: You got to decide. All right, Susan Lisovicz, thank you.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

COLLINS: Another issue, obviously, in all of this. Looking for work. Searching for a career. Millions of unemployed people are wondering where the jobs are and if they have the right skills that employers are looking for. The answers can often be found at a career counseling center.

And that's where we find our own personal finance editor, Gerri Willis, in Yonkers, New York this morning.

Hi, there, Gerri. Tell us, where are the jobs? Everybody wants to know.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Right. Well, Heidi, let me start where I'm at. As you said, I'm in Yonkers. I'm at an employment center here. We're expecting literally dozens of people to walk through the doors in the next couple of days - the next couple of hours, actually.

They are looking for jobs. They get services here. Everything from computer services to actual counseling on where the jobs are. And we've done a little bit of our own research on that today with a company called Career Builder. They helped us look at where the new jobs are now. Take a look at this map. It shows you where job creation is in this country. Look at those blue parts of the map, because that's where the creation of jobs is really concentrated.

As you can see, this is really happening in the south - Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Georgia. These are places where boomers are retiring, and as they retire, they have demand for health care services. You see growth of jobs there. Texas, oil and natural gas. You know, we continue to be dependent on those two resources. Those jobs being created in Texas.

Now if you look out west, job creation there as well, particularly in technology. Look at the states Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, there's natural resources, mining, agriculture jobs being created there. And when you go out to Washington State, it's all about biotech. Biotech is big there.

California, as hard hit as that state has been in this recession, they continue to create jobs, and you'll probably see even better creation of jobs in coming years because of the technology emphasis there - software engineers. People who work on the Web.

COLLINS: Yes.

WILLIS: Those are the jobs that are going to be created as boomers start to retire.

Now, I want to take you to one other part of the country. Let's look over to the northeast for just a second. As you probably already know, lots of government jobs being created in Washington, D.C., Virginia, also Maryland, because of what's going on with the government right now. It's expanding, it's hiring people. And then if you look up north, let's look up to New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, this corridor as well is a big area for job growth. Why?

Well, because even though Wall Street is laying off in New York City, collection agencies are proliferating, insurers are getting hired. In Boston, the universities and colleges there adding people as well. That's going to be a great area of growth.

So, Heidi, the bottom line here is even though we're seeing jobs lost and, in fact, you can see one company cut jobs and then hire in another area. So it's really a balancing act for some employers. They are getting rid of some people, adding others and, in some cases, we continue to see this economy generate jobs, even though you've got a report in your hand today that shows there's a significant amount of jobs lost. So there is a silver ling here, Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, good. And hopefully people across the country, as they watch that map, they are waiting, you know, for their area to show up their state and were able to tune into what might be available right in their backyard, if you can call it that. Gerri Willis, sure do appreciate it. Thank you.

Another travel day for President Obama. He left just a few minutes ago headed for Columbus, Ohio, today. There, he will attend a ceremony for 25 police recruits. Their jobs were cut last month because of budget concerns and, now, the Columbus is getting money from the economic recovery package. The mayor says the city can afford to hire them after all.

Standing in line in search of work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is all new to me. I was told to bring a lot of resumes, so I did, and they're all done!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: One woman's five-month long quest. We'll tell you all about it.

(OFF-MIKE) think twice before you choose Mexico as a destination. A warning there to tell you about. A deadly rise in drug violence is prompting many people to have second thoughts. CNN's Gary Tuchman has the story now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Spring break on Mexico's Northern Pacific Coast...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Totally relaxing, what we needed after finals.

TUCHMAN: ...where it feels like heaven, unless you make the drug traffickers angry. Then, it feels like hell.

When you hear a police siren in Rosarito Beach, Mexico, these days, your heart jumps, because, in the past half-year, this small city of 100,000 has seen at least 30 people killed by the drug cartels, none of them tourists. But this very popular spring break location has very few tourists right now. Despite beautiful weather, we saw more horses on the wide beach than people.

And at this outdoor bar, the only spring-breakers came off a cruise ship and were only here for six hours.

(on camera): You're all on a cruise now. But if they said to you, you could stay in a hotel here for a night or two, how many of you would want to do that? Raise your hand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Knowing what we know now, probably not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the fact that the beach is completely empty.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): What they know now is this. In this town and nearby cities, like Ensenada and Tijuana, roughly 200 people have reportedly been murdered in the last six months and often beheaded as a grotesque message. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom freaked out about me going to Mexico.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCHMAN (on camera): What did she say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said that she was really worried about kidnappings and the drug lords.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): This man was arrested six weeks ago, not far from Rosarito, charged with dissolving the remains of cartel victims into barrels of acid. Santiago Meza Lopez was asked how many people he had done this to. He declared 300.

Alerts and warnings have been issued about traveling to Mexico by the U.S. State Department, the ATF, even colleges.

(on camera): The good people of Rosarito find themselves living along a lucrative drug trafficking route. Among the 30 people murdered over the past few months, seven police officers, all shot gangland-style. It's not a job for the faint-hearted. The mayor of this city says about 75 cops in Rosarito were either fired last year for working with the cartels or killed. About 150 more have now been hired. They're being paid better salaries and given lie-detector tests to help make sure they stay honest.

Officer Karina Valdez (ph) is 20 years old.

(on camera): (SPEAKING SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The situation is bad, but there are people who need us.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Rosarito Mayor Hugo Torres believes his city has never had more honest and brave police officers.

HUGE TORRES, MAYOR OF ROSARITO, MEXICO: Beginning in January of this year, we have no killings at all.

TUCHMAN: And in the larger city of Tijuana, they were saying the same thing.

(on camera): But the relative quiet is now over. At around the same time we were riding in a police car, authorities announced they had made a horrifying discovery. Near this bull ring, about 20 minutes north in the city of Tijuana, we're only 100 yards away from the California border.

They got a call from two joggers, who said they saw something terrible right here, right under that graffiti on the ground. Police arrived. They saw three bodies without heads, without hands, and a note that said, "Snitches."

(voice-over): The Tijuana newspaper had a picture of the scene on the front page with the headline, "The Wave of Violence Returns." Eighteen miles away, within the city limits of Rosarito, they're still hasn't been a killing since the beginning of the year. The mayor thinks tourists should be comfortable coming back. And he's hoping for bigger crowds next week, when spring break starts to peak, although he himself has to be accompanied by armed guards when he travels throughout the city.

(on camera): What stops somebody from driving by and shooting us while we're walking?

TORRES: Well, I don't know. I guess nobody can. If somebody wants to kill you, they will kill you. I know that for sure.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The mayor says he has no plans to step down because of fear. He's too busy trying to protect and promote his very empty city that so many are now too scared to visit.

Gary Tuchman, Rosarito Beach, Mexico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Mexico's tourism director and other official say it's still safe to travel south of the border.

Joining us now to talk a little bit more about this is Ruben Beltran. He's the consul general of Mexico for New York.

I'm just wondering how does this make you feel when you hear your country being talked about like this?

RUBEN BELTRAN, CONSUL GENERAL OF MEXICO IN NEW YORK: Well, on the one hand, I understand and I appreciate concerns that many people are showing and around things - regrettable things happened in the cities you mentioned. But I also - I'm very confident. I'm making the case that Mexico is a wonderful place to spend a vacation. And everything is related to the context. You should know...

COLLINS: Regrettable things have happened, though.

BELTRAN: Very - no...

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: I mean, we are talking about - I mean, let's be honest. We are talking about beheadings, we're talking about peoples hands being cut off. Who is running the country right now? Is it the drug cartel?

BELTRAN: No doubt, no doubt, the country is being run by President Calderon administration. But you have to put it into context. On the one hand, you have these very regrettable horrible violence occurring in certain places, very located places which are very, very far away, thousands of miles away from the very most important...

(CROSSTALK) COLLINS: Well, that's not what I have.

Do I have it wrong? I mean, I'm understanding that they are getting closer and closer to larger cities, vacation cities, destinations where tourist go like Cancun.

BELTRAN: No, but - let's put it this way. These - we have a full occupancy rate in Cancun right now. We are expecting 30,000 spring breakers this season, and you should understand, on the other hand, that we had 18 million U.S. visitors last year, which was an increase from 2007 figures.

COLLINS: But what are you going to have this year?

BELTRAN: And we expect 18 to 18.5 million U.S. visitors in Mexico. But just Mexico was a top destination as also acknowledged by your embassy in Mexico City.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: OK. Well, then, let me ask you this.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Let me ask you this, do we have it wrong?

BELTRAN: Excuse me?

COLLINS: Do we have it wrong? Do we have the story wrong? I mean, I'm hearing you say over and over again that it is perfectly safe to come to visit in Mexico, anywhere in the country?

BELTRAN: Well, I've seen everything. When you're traveling abroad, you have to exercise caution and common sense. And we also advise the spring breakers to abide by the law. You know, drug traffic and drug consumption is not legal in Mexico, and there is a very strong campaign by President Calderon administration to fight drug cartels.

Most of the killings very readable, horrible scenes you've shown are because fights amongst drug cartels, because they are trying to bring the drug to the United States. They are fighting to recover or capture routes of sending drugs to the United States.

So for the tourists that are going to visit by scores, millions of visitors, more than 22 million visitors Mexico, international Mexico is going to have this year, that they're going to have a splendid vacation.

COLLINS: All right.

BELTRAN: We're stepping up - we are stepping our security posture, and I'm pretty sure that the outcome will be very satisfactory for the vast majority of the tourists visiting my country. COLLINS: We will check in with you after the spring break season is over. How about that? Consul General Ruben Beltran, we sure do appreciate your time.

(CROSSTALK)

BELTRAN: I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

COLLINS: Thank you.

BELTRAN: Thank you very much.

COLLINS: Thousands more pink slips. What can the president do to stop the bleeding? We will go direct to the White House for some answers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Tough times getting tougher. Even more people losing jobs. The Labor Department reports the nation's unemployment rate has hit 8.1 percent. That is the highest level we have seen in more than 25 years. And, of course, it's just one of the economic problems facing President Obama.

Christina Romer is also in the thick of it. She chairs the council of economic advisers at the White House.

So, quickly, Christina, if you wouldn't mind, tell us exactly what you do. What is President Obama charging you with in the face of the economic struggles?

CHRISTINA ROMER, CHAIRWOMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Well, I am one of his top economic advisers, and I have a staff of about ten PhD economists and lots of research assistance that do the careful, empirical and economic analysis that needs to be done on a wide range of issues.

COLLINS: OK. Well, you heard the jobless numbers this morning. Obviously, that's what we're talking about today, anyway.

People want to know what you're going to do. People want to know how you're going to help them keep the roof over their heads.

ROMER: The important thing is we're already doing it. That's the important thing for the American people to know. We have been working from the day the president was elect to put in place a whole range of economic policies from the fiscal stimulus plan, to the stabilization for the financial institutions, to a comprehensive housing plan. There's a reason for this. We knew the economy was thick. We knew it was threatening to get worse. And we've been working diligently to get a plan in place that will turn it around.

COLLINS: Well, let's talk about that housing plan for one of these issues. Obviously, the program one and program two were released on Wednesday, just this week. I want to show you something that came in from one of our viewers. Robert in Illinois. He says this, "Is there anything in this housing plan to help people who have lost their jobs and that are current on their mortgage? No bank seems to want to help anyone who has lost their jobs.

And, you know, we've been hearing that a lot, Christina. What about the people who are already unemployed? What are they going to do?

ROMER: So certainly the housing plan is designed to help people that are - exactly the people that have been responsible, playing by the rules, that that's been a key part of it, to try to get people's payments down to a reasonable level, so they can still keep making them and stay in their homes. And that's going to be an important part of this. And certainly, you know, when people lose their jobs, that is definitely a hard time, and it's something I think we'll be needing to think more about.

COLLINS: Yes, absolutely. And I also wonder, very quickly, we've had lots of people writing in to us and some of them talking about their 401(k)s. In fact, a whole lot of people are very worried about their 401(k)s, because they are having to dip into it whether they want to or not.

And every analyst would tell you leave that alone. But, look, if you don't have any other income, because you've lost your job, you're going to get into your 401(k).

In fact, we have one up on the screen right there. You can read it for yourself. "I'm unemployed. Currently collecting unemployment benefits. Got to cash out my 401(k) just to survive. Wondering if the government has thought about cutting the early withdrawal penalties yet."

Is this something that's realistic? Is this one small thing that could be revisited?

ROMER: I think the important thing - the thing that's going to ultimately help everybody in the economy is turning the economy around. I think the thing we've been focusing on is creating jobs. I think that's what's ultimately going to cause the stock market to rebound, is when the economy rebounds. We know that's one of the most durable relations in all of history, is the relationship between the economy and the stock market.

So I think the best thing we can do for American consumers is exactly what we're doing, which is creating jobs, getting banks in a position where they can lend again and keeping people in their homes.

COLLINS: All right. So you're kind of telling people you got to be patient as painful as it may be.

Christina Romer, we sure do appreciate it. Chairman, counsel of economic adviser to President Obama.

Thank you.

ROMER: Thanks.

COLLINS: Hoping to stand out in a sea of job seekers. Thousands of people packing into a New York job fair. We showed you the lines yesterday. Now we'll follow one of the hopefuls.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Pushing for health care reform. President Obama brought the debate to the White House to hear real stories from real people. We'll talk to a couple of people who were in the room. It's a snapshot across America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: We showed you the long lines outside a job fair in New York yesterday. One woman who was there has been looking for work for five months. Dawn Wilson says she prays a lot just to get by.

CNN's Campbell Brown has her story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was chaos, 4,000 people waiting for the chance to sell themselves to job recruiters. These are people who lost their jobs months ago determined to find a way back to work.

Dawn Wilson is 44, a single mom. She says Citibank laid her off five months ago. She's absolutely driven to find a new job. But it's hard.

DAWN WILSON, JOB-SEEKER: My severance is almost gone. I have been trying to make it stretch, but I have no luck so far.

What are the positions that you have available?

How about any admin positions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not currently available right now.

WILSON: Well, thanks for your time.

This is all new to me. I was told to bring a lot of resumes, so I did. And they are all gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, you're from Citibank. OK.

WILSON: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wonderful.

WILSON: I'm expecting a call from one of - an interview that I went on last week. And, hopefully, it will be good news.

BROWN: Moments later, she gets a call.

WILSON: Oh, no, it's not the call.

BROWN: Four-and-a-half-hours later, Dawn leaves, still hopeful, but with no promises.

WILSON: I think I'm going to call it a day.

I came directly here after dropping the kids off at school. And I didn't have a chance for breakfast, so I'm starving. I haven't eaten all day. So, my feet are killing me. So, hopefully, when I go home, I can soak my feet and hopefully have a good meal.

BROWN: Back in Brooklyn, Dawn and her 7-year-old, Naomi, are cleaning. They have moved in with her sister, so Dawn can job- search full-time. Her bills, it is a nightly ritual.

WILSON: And MetLife is canceling my - my life insurance, because I haven't paid that.

BROWN: Arranging them by which ones she can afford to pay.

WILSON: I have been, like, utilizing my credit cards. They're pretty much to the max right now. And I'm worried about how am I going to pay for those?

BROWN: Dawn worries about Naomi. She has to cut back and fears it might affect her daughter's future.

WILSON: She has been going to after-school. I just called the office to tell them that she won't be coming back next month. This is her last month, because I'm not able to pay it.

BROWN: So, what does Dawn say about this? She says she's hopeful, strong, and confident she can hang on. And yet:

WILSON: I pray a lot...

(LAUGHTER)

WILSON: ...when I'm scared, just to give me the courage to go on.

BROWN: There are so many others now just like Dawn and Naomi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Job fairs like the one on Campbell Brown's report are happening all around the nation. Of course, the key to finding a job maybe knowing where to look. And cnn.com is here to help you with that. Just go to our homepage and you'll find the link.

More people in pain. Job losses hit quarter-century high.