Good morning. Eight years ago this week, I brought together leading minds from all around our country for my first economic summit. The challenge then was immediate and clear: The deficit was $290 billion and rising; 10 million Americans were out of work; interest rates were high; and confidence was low.
Al Gore and I were determined to change that by putting into action a new economic strategy, one of fiscal discipline, investment in our people, and expanded trade. Since then, we've turned record budget deficits into record surpluses and produced the longest economic expansion in American history, with more than 22 million new jobs, the lowest Hispanic and African-American unemployment ever, and the highest homeownership on record.
Over the last 2 years, our economy has grown at an exceptional pace, often achieving growth rates as high as 5 percent. Obviously, economic growth at such a brisk level cannot be sustained forever, but the bulk of evidence suggests that our recordbreaking expansion is continuing. In fact, just this week we received a report showing continued growth in private sector jobs. We also learned that unemployment in November was 4.0 percent, among the lowest rates in 30 years.
I'm also pleased to report that the overwhelming majority of private sector experts are predicting solid but measured growth in the coming year, with low unemployment, low inflation, and strong productivity. This is good news for the American economy and for the American people, and this is no time to abandon the path of fiscal discipline that helped get us here.
Our economic success was not a matter of chance; it was a matter of choice—a commitment to commonsense American values, to responsibility and fairness, to putting people first, to not spending what we don't have. We must not take our economic strengths for granted. That's why it is critical that we continue to pay down the debt, to keep inflation and interest rates low. That's why we should keep expanding trade, opening markets abroad, and keep investing in our people—that's the most important thing—closing the skills gap with more training and better education.
Education is an important part of any strategy for economic growth. And in this information age, it is essential. If we want our children to be able to compete in the high-tech, high-wage job market of the 21st century, we must ensure that all of them have the skills they need to succeed.
With this in mind, I have met twice this week with congressional leaders of both parties to make sure we pass an education budget that prepares our children for the future. When Congress left town last month, we already had reached an historic bipartisan agreement on education. It would provide much-needed funding to reduce class size, repair crumbling schools, improve teacher quality. It would also expand Head Start, after-school programs, Pell grants, and support students with disabilities.
We know these are the basic building blocks of a 21st century work force. I hope Congress will keep its commitment to America's children and pass a balanced budget that makes education the number one priority.
Once President Lyndon Johnson said, "We must raise our sights to develop more completely our people's talents and to employ these talents fully." If we want to invest in the prosperity of our Nation, we must invest in the education of our children so that their talents may be fully employed. Working together, we can complete this year's unfinished business, keep paying down the debt, keep the prosperity going, and by investing in our children's education, prepare our Nation to meet the challenges of the years to come.
Thanks for listening.