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Obama Touts Jobs Numbers
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Obama Touts Jobs Numbers

Politics

Obama Touts Jobs Numbers

Obama Touts Jobs Numbers
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President Obama welcomed the new jobs numbers, but said much work needed to be done. He told workers near Charlotte, N.C., that his policies had helped spur job growth.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama sounded cautiously optimistic today after the best monthly jobs report in three years. According to the Labor Department, the U.S. economy added 162,000 jobs in March, the first six-figure gain since the beginning of the recession.

Economists were forecasting an even bigger number, though. And the president told workers in Charlotte, North Carolina, there's still a long way to go to recover the eight million-plus jobs that have been lost.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: For President Obama, today's jobs report is a welcome change of direction.

President BARACK OBAMA: We learned that the economy actually produced a substantial number of jobs instead of losing a substantial number of jobs.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: We are beginning to turn the corner.

HORSLEY: The president spoke after touring a factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, that makes parts for advanced batteries used in electric cars and elsewhere. The Celgard Company is expanding and hiring an extra 300 workers with help from the federal government's stimulus program.

Mr. Obama says the rebound in jobs nationwide is a sign his economic policies are working.

Pres. OBAMA: The tough measures that we took, measures that were necessary even though sometimes they were unpopular have broken this slide and are helping us to climb out of this recession.

HORSLEY: The Labor Department also revised upwards today its jobs numbers for January and February, showing on average the economy added 54,000 jobs in each of the first three months of the year. That's a big improvement from the first quarter of last year when Mr. Obama took office and the economy was losing three-quarters of a million jobs a month.

But the recovery is still painfully slow. The additional hiring in March didn't budge the unemployment rate, which stands at 9.7 percent nationwide. Here in Charlotte, the jobless rate is pushing 13 percent and economists aren't predicting a big drop anytime soon.

Pres. OBAMA: Economic statistics don't do justice to the pain and anxiety that results from unemployment. Lasting unemployment takes a toll on families, takes a toll on marriages, takes a toll on children.

HORSLEY: It's also taking a toll on the president's political standing and that of congressional Democrats. Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia said today it's time to change course and stop what he called the excessive spending in Washington. Though even Cantor had to admit an unclear report showing job gains is an improvement from the job losses we've been seeing.

Mr. Obama resisted Cantor's call to return to what he described as the failed economic policies of the past. He noted that many middle-class families were struggling even before the latest crisis and warned building a more stable economy won't happen overnight.

Pres. OBAMA: Well, we've come a long way. We still got a ways to go. We shouldn't underestimate the difficulties we face as a country or the hardships that confront millions of our fellow citizens - some of your friends, some of your neighbors, some of your relatives - you know are still going through a tough time.

HORSLEY: Some of the workers in the audience seemed skeptical of the president's policies even though their employer has directly benefited from the economic stimulus program.

Celgard's expansion is expected to add up to a thousand jobs for suppliers around the country. One of them, Matt Litzler, wanted to know if Mr. Obama would lead by example.

Mr. MATT LITZLER: The limousines that you drive...

Pres. OBAMA: Yeah.

Mr. LITZLER: ...electric with Celgard membranes in them, sometime soon?

Pres. OBAMA: You know, the answer - I'm going to be honest with you...

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: I'm going to be honest with him...

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: The president said his armored limousine is too heavy for today's electric car batteries. But this week, he did announce a doubling of the federal government's hybrid fleet.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Unemployment Rate Unchanged But Jobs Added

Non-farm payrolls rose in March for only the second time since the start of the recession, the Labor Department reported Friday, but the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent.

Speaking at a plant that builds state-of-the-art batteries in Charlotte, N.C., President Obama called the hailed the report, calling it the "best news we've seen on the job front in more than two years."

"We've finally added a substantial number of jobs rather than losing a substantial number," he said.

The addition of 162,000 jobs was the best labor report in three years, but temporary hiring for the U.S. Census and a rebound from February's snowstorms accounted for a substantial portion of the increase. The increase still fell short of most the expectations of most analysts, who had expected the figure to be around 190,000.

In a statement, the White House offered its usual note of cautious optimism over the numbers, saying it welcomed the numbers but that "the American labor market remains severely distressed."

More On The Jobs Report

Speaking Friday to NPR's All Things Considered, Christina Romer, the chair of the Council on Economic Advisers, said fears of a "double-dip" recession were all but over, saying "we're in pretty good shape."

But the White House economist acknowledged that the current 9.7 percent unemployment rate was "terrible" and that it was unlikely to drop significantly by the end of the year.

"I would be anticipating it ticking down a little bit," she said, "but if you don't get ... robust growth, it is going to hang in that (plus-9 percent) range."

Romer's comments highlight the political sensitivity to the unemployment numbers. Without significant rehiring, Americans are likely to remain pessimistic about the economy and that could cause a backlash for Democrats at the midterm congressional elections in November.

Despite falling short of expectations, the report "is really good news," said Brian Wesbury of First Trust in Chicago.

"It's a great employment report. It's the final turning point for a recovering economy," he told NPR.

Economist Hugh Johnson of Johnson Illington Advisors said the time had come when "you can say with some confidence that we are adding jobs to payrolls."

He said after subtracting census workers, the economy added "about 114,000 jobs on the plus side."

"That's a really solid number and it's very encouraging," Johnson told NPR.

But sustainable jobs growth depends on a steadily expanding economy. University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said the GDP would need to consistently grow at more than 4 percent to bring down the unemployment rate to 6 percent over the next three years.

Morici said that 5.6 percent GDP posted at the end of 2009 "reflected accounting adjustments," while "sustainable growth [comprising] demand by private consumers, businesses for expansion and government" was up only 2 percent.

Manufacturing added 17,000 jobs, while the financial, insurance and information technology sectors all shed jobs.

The U.S. economy appears to have emerged last summer from its worst recession since the 1930s, but the labor market has lagged far behind as employers have been reluctant to add new workers.

The jobs added include 48,000 temporary workers hired for the census and an unknown number of hires that were bumped forward from February because of the massive snowstorms in the east. Private employers added 123,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, more Americans were working part-time for economic reasons. When those numbers are added to the people who have simply given up looking for work, the "underemployment" rate ticked up to 16.9 percent from 16.8 percent.

The Labor Department said there were approximately 1 million such "discouraged workers" in March, up from 309,000 a year ago. Economists are looking for that figure to begin turning around as the overall economy improves.

"That's one thing you expect to see when the labor market is improving is that people come off of the sidelines and start to re-enter the labor force because it seems like their prospects are better," said Alan Levenson, of T. Rowe Price in Baltimore.

Temporary work also increased by 40,000 jobs. Health care and manufacturing also posted some gains.

The figures for total non-farm payroll were revised for January, going from a net loss of 26,000 jobs in that month to a gain of 14,000. February was also revised from a loss of 14,000 to a gain of 36,000.

"We've had employment up for the last five months with the revisions we got to this morning's data and the direction seems to be higher," Levenson told NPR.

The high unemployment has helped employers hold down wages. The report showed average hourly earnings fell by 2 cents to $22.47.

The latest jobs data follow a report earlier this week that showed consumers are increasing their spending and manufacturing activity is growing at its fastest pace in more than five years.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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