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President Obama will be talking about the economy this week in a couple of swing states. He travels tomorrow to Missouri, where the jobless rate is a bit below the national average, but still a painfully high 9.3 percent. Mr. Obama wants to extend unemployment benefits, but Republican senators have blocked that move, saying it will add to the deficit. NPR's Scott Horsley has more.
SCOTT HORSLEY: In his trip to Kansas City tomorrow, President Obama plans to visit a company that makes electric trucks. The Smith Electric Vehicle Company employs about 50 people, and it's hoping to double that payroll this year with help from a $32 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department.
Sandi Garrison would very much like to get one of those new Smith jobs. The Kansas City woman was laid off from her last job in 2008. And except for some temporary and contract assignments, she's been out of work for the last year and a half.
Ms. SANDI GARRISON: I get out and network all the time, and I go to job clubs. You know, I really, really try hard to find a job. But, you know, still, I have not been the chosen candidate.
HORSLEY: At her last interview, Garrison says, for an administrative assistant's position, she was one of 350 applicants. All those people looking for work aren't getting a lot of encouragement from the news these days. Private employers added just 80,000 jobs last month.
President Obama said the economy is moving in the right direction, but not fast enough.
President BARACK OBAMA: We're fighting to speed up this recovery and keep the economy growing by all means possible. That means extending unemployment insurance for workers who lost their job. That means getting small businesses the loans they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers. And that means sending relief to states so they don't have to lay off thousands of teachers and firefighters and police officers.
HORSLEY: Actually, Washington is not doing any of those things right now. Administration efforts to extend jobless benefits, boost small- business lending, and funnel money to the states have all been blocked in the Senate by lawmakers nervous about adding to the deficit.
David Walker, of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, has been sounding the alarm about the federal deficits for years. But even he says that's no excuse for the government to ignore more immediate concerns. Walker told the president's debt commission last week the government should tackle both problems.
Mr. DAVID WALKER (Peter G. Peterson Foundation): In our view, to ease the economic pain of unemployment and underemployed Americans, and to avoid a double-dip recession, we can and should pursue targeted and short-term initiatives that are temporary, properly designed, appropriately conditioned and effectively implemented.
HORSLEY: Like unemployed workers, state governments are facing their own budget crunch. The states cut some 10,000 jobs last month. White House economic adviser Christina Romer says job cuts in the states will only accelerate without more federal aid.
Ms. CHRISTINA ROMER (Chairperson, White House Council of Economic Advisors): The idea that we're going to lay off hundreds of thousands of teachers or policemen or firefighters - those are people in a job, they want to stay in a job. It seems like a very smart and sensible way to keep employment up and to provide essential government services.
HORSLEY: But a Gallup Poll released last month showed Americans are just about as concerned with government debt as they are with unemployment - especially Republicans. Missouri congressman and GOP Senate candidate Roy Blunt gives voice to that concern in a new campaign ad that began running this week.
Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): Irresponsible spending and crippling debt are killing jobs today and our children's future tomorrow.
HORSLEY: Job seeker Sandi Garrison is more worried about the present. Her unemployment benefits ran out last month, and unless she gets an extension or finds a new job soon, Garrison says it's going to be a lean year for her family - no eating out, no splurging, and certainly no big-ticket purchases that might give a lift to other would-be workers.
Ms. GARRISON: My car has 181,000 miles. So, you know, I need to get a job so that I can purchase a different car and help the economy. You know, it's going to be a tailspin pretty soon.
HORSLEY: Unemployment is an even bigger problem in Nevada, where the jobless rate is now 14 percent, the nation's highest. President Obama will make another push for government relief efforts in Las Vegas on Friday.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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