Obama Points To Signs Of Economic Recovery President Obama returned to Elkhart County, Indiana, which has the highest unemployment rate in America, to tout progress toward economic recovery. Obama also repeated a promise to overhaul health care this year despite stiff opposition from Republicans and some in his own party.

Obama Points To Signs Of Economic Recovery

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

President Obama promised an audience in Elkhart, Indiana, today that communities battered by the recession will recover. Mr. Obama spoke at a factory that builds RVs. He announced federal grants to develop electric car batteries, money which would go to the hard-hit manufacturing areas.

BLOCK: This was a return trip to Elkhart, which has one of the country's highest unemployment rates. The president's general message: Things are getting better.

NPR's Don Gonyea traveled with the president.

DON GONYEA: The president's appearance here is part of a big push by the administration defending his economic policies. Job growth in the nation is sluggish. And a jobs report due Friday is expected to show the national unemployment rate taking another tick upward. And with polls showing a decline in public confidence in Mr. Obama's handling of the economy, the president traveled to Indiana's Elkhart County, where the jobless rate is nearly 17 percent.

President BARACK OBAMA: This area has been hit with a perfect storm of economic troubles.

GONYEA: The president cited a decade's long decline in manufacturing.

Pres. OBAMA: You felt the impact of the struggles of the American auto industry, and the repercussions that have hit the Midwest especially hard. And you're living every day with the consequences of this recession and the financial meltdown.

GONYEA: But the president today disagreed with critics who say the big federal stimulus package enacted early this year isn't working. And he repeated his message citing tax cuts, which he says have helped the middle class and small businesses. And he pointed to extended unemployment benefits, and said aid to local and state governments has prevented layoffs of police and other employees. And he said investment in infrastructure, including roads and bridges, is getting under way and creating jobs.

But his big announcement in Elkhart was $2.4 billion in grants nationally to feed what he calls a new, green economy. The money is for projects to develop batteries and drive trains for electric and hybrid vehicles.

Pres. OBAMA: See, I don't want to just reduce our dependence on foreign oil and then end up being dependent on their foreign innovations. I don't want to have to import a hybrid car. I want to be able to build a hybrid car here.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: I don't want to have to import a hybrid truck. I want to build a hybrid truck here.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: I don't want to have to import a windmill from someplace else. I want to build a windmill right here in Indiana.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: This is the second time Mr. Obama has been to Elkhart County as president. The first was in February, when he was promoting the need for an economic stimulus. Things have gotten worse here since then. Twenty-four-year-old Steve Landry(ph) started working at this factory, Monaco RV, four years ago. He describes the local economy this way.

Mr. STEVE LANDRY: Rough. Rough. We just came back to work just a few months ago.

GONYEA: How long were you laid off?

Mr. LANDRY: Seven months. We had a long, seven-month layoff, and we've been back for about four months now.

GONYEA: The president brought good news today. Monaco RV's parent company, Navistar, will be getting one of those grants worth $39 million, for work in Elkhart to develop a large, electric-powered truck. Landry's reaction…

Mr. LANDRY: You know, something's got to be working. He's doing something right or we'd still be unemployed right now.

GONYEA: Landry says he hopes things have bottomed out for Elkhart County, though he and others in the audience acknowledge that the good news the company got today is just a piece of what needs to happen. The poor people here can begin to truly feel good about their prospects.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Wakarusa, Indiana.

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