Obama Sends Economic Report To Congress

President Obama sent his official economic report to Congress on Thursday, buoyed slightly by a more favorable trend in the weekly jobless claims report. That number went down again this week after rising last week. The report itself details actions taken so far to deal with fallout from the financial crisis of 2008 and restart the economy on a more sustainable basis.

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The number of people filing knew unemployment claims fell last week and some see that as an encouraging sign for the nations job market. There's a caveat, though, that number doesnt account for the blizzards that pummeled the Mid-Atlantic this week. Big storms in the past have tended to push job numbers down, at least temporarily. The White House today released its own report on the economy saying its gotten a lot better since President took office, but still has a long way to go.

NPRs Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Forecasting is a tricky business, whether youre talking about weather or the economy. The storm clouds that dumped snow up and down the East Coast in recent days had a silver lining for some businesses. Stranded travelers filled hotel rooms and parka makers also got a boost. In general, though, big snow causes big headaches for industries such as construction and transportation. And the storms could put a dent in the jobs numbers for February. Chief economist David Wyss of Standard & Poor's says the storm effects shouldnt last long.

Mr. DAVID WYSS (Chief Economist, Standard & Poor's): You do get impact on things like the service sector. If you dont go out to eat this week, Im not going to go out to eat twice next week to make up for it. People who cant get to the shopping mall to buy a shirt this week will get to the shopping mall next week and buy it.

HORSLEY: Digging out from the recession is going to take much longer. Wyss says even when the nation starts adding jobs again, we should not expect a quick drop in the unemployment rate, now at 9.7 percent.

Mr. WYSS: Now, we expect this to be a slow recovery. People are very cautious. They're cautious about spending money. Employers are cautious about hiring people. I think thats going to make this a half speed recovery, but half recovery is better than none.

HORSLEY: The presidents Council of Economic Advisers makes a similar argument in its annual report today. Christina Romer, who chairs the Council, says the report begins with a flashback to a year ago when the economy was in freefall. The longest chapter describes the governments rescue efforts.

Ms. CHRISTINA ROMER (Chairman, Council Of Economic Advisers): It is a chance to say, here's the tremendous amount that has been done to try to stabilize the economy. Here's the evidence that its working. And I think that evidence is very strong.

HORSLEY: Romer argues the $787 billion stimulus program in particular will be remembered as a triumph of government policy, once the political debate over it dies down. But even with that program and some additional jobs measures, the Council expects the economy to add only about 95,000 jobs a month this year -far short of the hundreds of thousands needed to bring unemployment rates in line with the recent past. Some critics say the stimulus program simply wasnt big enough to fight a recession thats wiped out nearly 8.5 million jobs so far. But Romer says the White House got what politics would allow.

Ms. ROMER: We did get, sort of, as bold as comprehensive a policy as we could get. Its been incredibly important, I mean, no one's going to say conditions are good today, but they are so much better than they would have been if we hadnt taken the actions that we took.

HORSLEY: Republican lawmakers immediately challenged the White House report as an attempt to assign blame for the recession to GOP policies of the past. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responded that fall for the recession will be decided by history. He said millions of unemployed dont care about historys judgement. They just want a job.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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