Obama refocuses on jobs after weak labor report
Published: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 1:31 a.m.
WASHINGTON— His agenda altered by the Christmas bombing attempt, President Barack Obama pivoted back to the domestic economy on Friday, promoting new U.S. spending to create tens of thousands of clean-technology jobs.
He outlined the initiative after a weak government jobs report raised new questions about the sustainability of the recovery.
"It's clear why such an effort is so important. Building a robust clean energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future, jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," Obama said in late-afternoon economic comments at the White House.
Obama spoke after the Labor Department said the U.S. jobless rate was unchanged at 10 percent in December, following a decline the previous month. But the government's broader measure of unemployment — which includes people who have stopped looking for work or can't find full-time jobs — ticked up 0.1 percentage point to 17.3 percent.
That, plus the larger-than-expected loss of 85,000 jobs in December, put new pressure on the administration to step up job creation.
"The road to recovery is never straight," Obama said, although he added that the trend is pointing toward an improving jobs picture.
Riveted for the past two weeks on terrorism, the White House has been eager for a subject change. And Friday's remarks were an attempt to return national attention to Obama's domestic agenda, particularly jobs.
As long as the focus remains on terrorism, Obama is vulnerable to criticism that he isn't aggressively addressing the jobs crisis — potentially damaging politically for Democrats in this year's midterm elections. Polls show that jobs are the No. 1 concern of Americans.
At the same time, the constant focus on the botched Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit — and U.S. intelligence failures surrounding the episode — has offered Republicans an easy opportunity to keep pounding Obama for national security lapses.
The president used Friday's release of the unemployment numbers to try to turn the page.
Obama announced $2.3 billion in tax credits — to be paid for from last year's $787 stimulus package — that he said would create some 17,000 "green" jobs. The money will go to projects including solar, wind and energy management.
He also called for an additional $5 billion in spending for clean energy manufacturing, an idea being promoted by Vice President Joe Biden.
Such initiatives are "an important step toward meeting the goal I've set of doubling the amount of renewable power we use in the next three years with wind turbines and solar panels built right here in the U.S. of A.," Obama said.
He said over 180 projects in over 40 states would receive the tax credits.
Meanwhile, top White House economist Christina Romer cautioned against reading too much into any one monthly jobs report, saying the numbers are volatile and subject to substantial revision.
"Real recoveries come in fits and starts and November was in some sense a start and December was a little bit of a fit," Romer said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Government revisions showed that the economy actually gained jobs in November, the first gain in two years, although the amount was tiny.
"We're starting to see stabilization in employment," Romer said. "Obviously, the next step is job growth, we're thinking we're going to see that by the spring."
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio ridiculed Obama's effort to rotate back to the economy.
"Instead of wildly pivoting from one issue to the next, the Obama administration needs to listen to American families asking 'where are the jobs?' and employers calling on Washington to scrap ... policies that are already costing jobs," Boehner said.
After generating 23 million new jobs during the 1990s, the economy is coming off a lost decade, with no net increase in jobs. Even so, losses have been moderating substantially since mid-2009 as the U.S. economy slowly recovers from its worst recession in decades.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a member of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, called the December jobs report "an ominous sign of the deep and continued suffering by working families who want to work but can't find jobs, despite tentative signs of renewed economic growth."
Trumka called for enactment of a new multibillion dollar stimulus package "to create good jobs now."
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott and Julie Pace contributed to this report.
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