Obama Says Jobless Woes Haven't Peaked

In a "town hall" session that mixed online participants with a White House audience, President Obama said Thursday that job losses may continue most of the year.

Obama said he is focused on creating new jobs, but urged Americans to be patient until businesses are confident enough to begin hiring again.

"We're going to have to be patient and persistent about job creation because I don't think that we've lost all the jobs we're going to lose in this recession. We're still going to be in a difficult time for much of this year," he said.

Jared Bernstein, economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and meeting moderator, said the unemployment rate continued to rise for 19 months after the end of the 2001 recession.

More than 92,000 people submitted questions online by the beginning of Thursday's session, the White House said.

Asked about the nation's struggling auto industry, Obama said that 14 million cars are sold in the U.S. in an average year, but that has gone down to 9 million. He said the industry model does not work, and U.S. taxpayers can't be expected to continuously take the risk to keep carmakers afloat.

Still, "We need to preserve an American auto industry," he said. The president said he would have a major announcement with details about his plans for automakers in a few days.

Obama said he is focused on creating jobs through his energy, health care and education programs rather than bringing back jobs that have been outsourced to other countries. He pushed for support of his $3.6 trillion budget in addition to the stimulus package passed by Congress last month.

Obama said most of the jobs that have been outsourced are low-wage, unskilled positions that would not help the economy.

A number of the questions dealt with jobs on a day when the Labor Department said the number of people claiming unemployment benefits was the highest on record dating back to 1967.

The total number of people claiming benefits jumped to 5.56 million, worse than economists' projections of 5.48 million, a ninth straight record.

A number of questions in Thursday's session dealt with health care, with the president saying he is working toward a universal health care coverage system. "I actually want a universal health care system," he said. "That is my goal. Whether we do it the way European countries do it, or the way Canada does it is another thing."

Obama said it would be best to build on the current system that relies in part on employer insurance plans because people are familiar with them. He said he hopes to sign a health care bill later this year.

Obama joked at one point that a question about marijuana ranked "fairly high" among his online audience. He said he was asked if legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation.

"I don't know what this says about the online audience," he said with a smile, adding that he opposed legalizing the illicit drug.

For the past two weeks, the president has tried to drum up support for his budget proposal. Last week, he held town hall meetings in California and went on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to reassure the public that the administration is making progress toward reviving the troubled economy. On Tuesday, he took to the airwaves with a prime-time news conference.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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