ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
I'm Michele Norris.
And we begin this hour with a sign of weakness in the economic recovery. The government reported today that the economy grew more slowly in the second quarter of this year than it did in the first.
But in Michigan today, President Obama offered a spirited defense of his recovery program, especially the decision to bail out the domestic auto industry. Touring a pair of auto factories, the president said his controversial rescue of Chrysler and General Motors is beginning to pay off.
As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the U.S. auto industry has added some 55,000 jobs since the two companies emerged from bankruptcy last year.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Today's auto tour was a kind of victory lap for President Obama. He told workers at the Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit he's always had a soft spot for Chrysler.
President BARACK OBAMA: The first new car that I ever bought was a Grand Cherokee.
(Soundbite of cheering)
HORSLEY: Even as he fondly recalled that new-car smell though, Mr. Obama said his Cherokee was no match for the 2011 model now in production at this plant. Chrysler just added a second shift here, hiring 1,100 additional workers.
Standing in front of an unpainted Cherokee frame, Mr. Obama said those workers are proving wrong the naysayers who argued against his rescue of Chrysler and GM.
Pres. OBAMA: I wish they were standing here today.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Pres. OBAMA: I wish they could see what I'm seeing in this plant and talk to the workers who are here taking pride in building a world-class vehicle. I don't think they'd be willing to look you in the eye and say that you were a bad investment.
HORSLEY: One of those grateful workers is Daryl Easel(ph), whose job is installing doors on the new Cherokee. He's work at Chrysler for about 15 years and says his job would have been in jeopardy without the government's help.
Mr. DARYL EASEL (Car Door Installer, DaimlerChrysler Motors Company): Nothing like presidential leadership to step in and handle a very contentious situation that was the situation here in Detroit. I appreciate it. I mean, I owe my job to him, basically. We all owe our jobs to him.
HORSLEY: Automakers renewed hiring has barely put a dent in Michigan's unemployment rate, which still tops 13 percent.
But Ron Bloom, who helped lead the Treasury Department's auto task force, says without the Chrysler and GM rescues, at least a million more jobs would have been lost and not just at those two companies.
Mr. RON BLOOM (Senior Adviser, U.S. Treasury Department): This is an incredibly interdependent industry. And if GM had failed, a very large number of suppliers would have immediately failed, and that would have had a cascading effect through the balance of the industry, Ford included, and potentially others as well.
HORSLEY: Instead, Bloom says carmakers are slowly recovering. General Motors is expected to hold a public stock offering later this year. That could allow the government to recover most of its GM investment.
Mr. BLOOM: While there's still a long way to go, the companies are also showing positive signs of financial performance. In the first quarter, all of them made operating profits, so we think there's a lot of signs that, while slow, the industry is truly coming back.
HORSLEY: Mr. Obama also toured a General Motors plant where the Chevy Volt will be manufactured, and he took one of the plug-in hybrids for a spin. Nine GM factories were busy enough to work through their usual summer shutdowns this year, and Chrysler announced during the president's visit, its plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, will not close in 2012 as scheduled but will instead stay open and hire additional workers next year. All of this leaves workers like Easel feeling a little more optimistic.
Mr. EASEL: Morale is very high now compared to what it was. This time last year, it was kind of bleak, but we got a good positive product. That's the main thing. We hope we can get some more shifts going on here and return to prosperity and profitability.
Ms. KATRINA BROWN-JOHNSON(ph): And if they keep our wages, we might buy one, too.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HORSLEY: Easel's co-worker Katrina Brown-Johnson makes a good point. Today, the Commerce Department reported weaker than expected consumer spending. Americans' confidence in their own fortunes will determine the cars and other products they buy and their judgment on the steps President Obama has taken to steer the economy.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Detroit.
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