Under pressure from Republicans and a restive public to fix the sputtering economic recovery, President Barack Obama is refocusing on this politically potent issue by talking job creation with business and labour leaders at the White House.
The White House has lacked a unified economic message in recent weeks, with its attention focused instead on health care and Obama’s three-month review of the Afghanistan war. With unemployment in double digits for the first time in decades, Democratic lawmakers are suggesting a second economic stimulus aimed directly at job creation may be needed.
Administration officials are hoping Thursday’s jobs forum, an Obama trip to Pennsylvania on Friday and a major economic speech on Tuesday will help counter Republican critics who contend the administration’s economic recovery efforts have failed and its oversight of the $787 billion stimulus package has been inadequate.
At the jobs forum, Obama planned to defend his administration’s handling of the economy and argue that it would be in far worse shape had Congress not passed the huge stimulus bill earlier this year. Under intense Republican attacks, public support for the stimulus effort has faded.
“I certainly hope it’s more than a photo-op,” said the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, Rep. Eric Cantor. “All of us want to do anything we can to get Americans back to work. Past history has been, with this White House, that there’s been a lot of pomp and ceremony with very little follow through in terms of delivering results.”
Administration officials said they don’t expect major policy announcements from the president, Vice President Joe Biden or members of the Cabinet who were scheduled to be on hand.
“Increasing employment is everyone’s responsibility, from government to businesses to households,” Obama economic adviser Larry Summers said in advance of the forum. “The White House jobs forum will take stock of where we are on the implementation of the Recovery Act and to explore new job creation measures including infrastructure investment, incentives for small businesses, developing our green economy and promoting U.S. exports.”
The U.S. unemployment rate is 10.2 percent, the highest since 1983. Some 15.7 million Americans are out of work. The average jobless worker has been unemployed for more than six months. These sobering statistics spell potentially serious trouble for Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.
The recession technically may be over, but analysts say many of the jobs lost in the downturn probably will not return and high unemployment is likely to persist.