Obama offers ray of economic hope to struggling Indiana region
President unveils $2.4b in grants for green vehicles
WAKARUSA, Ind. - Promising new jobs and money, President Obama yesterday told a hurting Midwestern region that its recovery will be like America’s: tough but certain.
“Even in the hardest times, against the toughest odds, we have never surrendered,’’ Obama told a crowd on the steamy factory floor of Monaco RV, whose previous owner went bankrupt. “We don’t give up. We don’t surrender our fates to chance. We have always endured.’’
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He trumpeted a “made in America’’ message as he announced $2.4 billion in grants for technology toward producing electric and hybrid cars, part of the $787 billion economic stimulus plan that he, Vice President Joe Biden, and four Cabinet secretaries defended in appearances across the country yesterday.
The loudest applause, though, came when Obama said that
Indiana’s Elkhart-Goshen area had an unemployment rate of 16.8 percent in June, up 10 percentage points from last year. Obama was in Elkhart, just north of Wakarusa, in February when he made a similar stop to lobby for the stimulus.
In an interview later yesterday, Obama said it was fair for his presidency’s economic performance to be judged on Elkhart’s. “Our whole goal is to, first of all, rescue the economy from the brink,’’ he told MSNBC. “But the most important thing we’re going to have to do is help Elkhart reinvent itself.’’
When someone in the audience at his speech shouted a thank-you to Obama for coming back with taxpayer-dollar grants, he responded: “You’re welcome. Thank the American people.’’
Obama’s remarks mixed a pep talk with a defense of his economic agenda. “You know, just a few months ago, folks thought that these factories might be closed for good,’’ he told the assembled workers and others. “But now they’re coming back to life.’’
“I’m committed to a strategy that ensures that America leads,’’ he added.
Obama’s broader audience was the American public, which has grown more skeptical of the $787 billion stimulus plan that he pushed through Congress just weeks into his term. Signs of economic recovery have started to emerge in key areas such as housing and manufacturing. But jobs are the key to success - for individuals, for families, for politicians - and those haven’t begun returning yet.
Overall, US unemployment hit 9.5 percent in June, the highest level in 26 years. New monthly numbers come out tomorrow, and the White House has been trying for weeks to set expectations that joblessness will worsen before it gets better.
The American public is still uneasy. A total of 79 percent of people describe the economy as “poor,’’ according to an AP-GfK Poll. And Obama’s approval rating on the economy is now at 50 percent, the same poll found, down from 58 percent in April.
Obama tried to remind people, including Republican critics, that some of the stimulus money was always designed for longer-range infrastructure and energy projects to rebuild the economy.
That tied into his news nugget of the day: the grants he announced in the border region of Indiana and Michigan, the two states benefiting the most and both important in presidential elections. He also dispatched Biden to Michigan and other Cabinet emissaries to pivotal electoral states North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Florida to help spread the news and the wealth.
The grants will be split among nearly 50 projects in 25 states, with the biggest shares going to Indiana and Michigan to create job opportunities in the automotive industry.