President Obama hoped to put the Christmas Day terror scare behind him -- at least temporarily -- by saying Thursday that the "buck stops with me" and setting in motion a streamlining of intelligence efforts and a ramping up of passenger screening.Today, he returned his focus to jobs after the latest unemployment report showed the jobless rate stuck in double digits.
The Labor Department reported this morning that employers cut 85,000 jobs last month, more than most analysts expected. For all of 2009, employers slashed 4.2 million jobs, and the jobless rate averaged 9.3 percent -- compared to an average of 5.8 percent in 2008 and 4.6 percent in 2007. The economy has lost more than 8 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007.
Obama has warned repeatedly that job growth will lag the economic recovery, in part because many companies have figured out how to get by with fewer employees, often by making workers do more.
UPDATE: "The jobs numbers that were released by the Labor Department this morning are a reminder that the road to recovery is never straight and that we have to continue to work every single day to get our economy moving again," Obama said this afternoon.
"For most Americans, and for me, that means jobs. It means whether we are putting people back to work. Job losses for the last quarter of 2009 were one-tenth of what we were experiencing in the first quarter. In fact, in November we saw the first gain in jobs in nearly two years.
"Last month, however, we slipped back, losing more jobs than we gained, though the overall trend of job loss is still pointing in the right direction. What this underscores, though, is that we have to continue to explore every avenue to accelerate the return to hiring, which brings me to my announcement today." (His full remarks are below.)
He announced that the administration is awarding $2.3 billion in Recovery Act tax credits, for 183 "clean energy manufacturing projects" in 43 states that are supposed to create tens of thousands of jobs in areas including solar, wind, and efficiency and energy management technologies.
“Building a robust clean energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future,” Obama said in a statement. “The Recovery Act awards I am announcing today will help close the clean energy gap that has grown between America and other nations while creating good jobs, reducing our carbon emissions and increasing our energy security.”
In advance of Obama's remarks, the White House sent out a statement from the chairwoman of his Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, that reinforced his message that the recovery will not "be a straight line" and that cautioned against reading too much into any monthly unemployment report.
"Today’s employment report, though a setback from November, is consistent with the gradual labor market stabilization we have been seeing over the last several months," she said.
"Payroll employment declined 85,000 in December. To put this number in perspective, employment declined 139,000 in September and 127,000 in October. So, in a broad sense the trend toward moderating job loss is continuing. This trend is particularly obvious in the quarterly pattern: average monthly job loss was 691,000 in the first quarter of 2009, 428,000 in the second quarter, 199,000 in the third quarter, and 69,000 in the fourth quarter.
"Revised data now show that employment increased 4,000 in November. This is obviously welcome news and the first employment increase in 23 months. Compared with the unexpectedly good report for November, December’s job loss is a slight setback. Two industries where employment declined significantly were construction (-53,000) and wholesale and retail trade (-28,400). One continuing sign of labor market healing was that temporary help services, which is often a leading indicator of labor demand, added 46,500 jobs in December. Both the work week and aggregate hours remained stable, maintaining the significant improvement that occurred in November.
"The unemployment rate remained at 10.0 percent in December. This level reflected a proportional decline in the number of people unemployed and the number of people in the labor force. The unemployment rate remains unacceptably high, which underscores the need for responsible actions to jumpstart private-sector job creation.
"As the President has said for a year, the road to recovery will not be a straight line. The monthly employment and unemployment numbers are volatile and subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative. It is essential that we continue our efforts to move in the right direction and replace job losses with robust job gains."
But the Republican National Committee got in the first shot.
“For close to a full year the American people have been forced to watch and in many cases bear the burden of our ever increasing national unemployment rate which unfortunately remained in the double digits throughout the month of December," Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said in a statement.
"More than 85,000 Americans lost their jobs in the month of December, meaning more than 2.8 million Americans have lost their jobs since the stimulus passed, and the national unemployment rate remains at 10 percent. The American economy is a powerful and amazingly resilient system that will always naturally return to balance because of the determination and unique ingenuity of the American worker," Steele added. "But President Obama’s singular focus on enacting his government-run liberal policies are single handily preventing this return. It’s time for President Obama to heed the recent words of Democrat Senator Ben Nelson and finally do what he should have been doing over the past year – put his full and undivided attention on fixing our economy.”
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio piled on, warning of a "jobless recovery."
"Today’s disappointing report paints a picture of an economy in which employers and workers are stuck in the muck of higher taxes, job-killing policies and wasteful Washington spending. Republicans have repeatedly presented President Obama with better solutions to help small businesses create jobs, only to be rebuffed in favor of more of the same ‘stimulus’ programs that just grow government and pile debt on our kids and grandkids," Boehner said in a statement.
"A jobless recovery is a far cry from what the American people were promised last winter when Washington Democrats jammed through a trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ that they said would create jobs ‘immediately.’ Instead, roughly three million Americans have lost their jobs since then, and joblessness remains in the double-digits.
“Instead of wildly pivoting from one issue to the next, the Obama Administration needs to listen to American families asking ‘where are the jobs?’ and employers calling on Washington to scrap these policies that are already costing jobs, starting with a government takeover of health care. The hard work and entrepreneurship of the American people will ultimately get us out of this mess, but unless Washington gets out of the way, that day will be longer in coming.”
Good afternoon, everybody. Before I announce a significant new investment we’re making in clean energy, I want to give an update on a matter of concern to every American -- and that’s our employment picture.
The jobs numbers that were released by the Labor Department this morning are a reminder that the road to recovery is never straight, and that we have to continue to work every single day to get our economy moving again. For most Americans, and for me, that means jobs. It means whether we are putting people back to work.
Job losses for the last quarter of 2009 were one-tenth of what we were experiencing in the first quarter. In fact, in November we saw the first gain in jobs in nearly two years. Last month, however, we slipped back, losing more jobs than we gained, though the overall trend of job loss is still pointing in the right direction.
What this underscores, though, is that we have to continue to explore every avenue to accelerate the return to hiring, which brings me to my announcement today. The Recovery Act has been a major force in breaking the trajectory of this recession and stimulating growth and hiring. And one of the most popular elements of it has been a clean energy manufacturing initiative that will put Americans to work while helping America gain the lead when it comes to clean energy.
It’s clear why such an effort is so important. Building a robust clean energy sector is how we will create the jobs of the future -- jobs that pay well and can’t be outsourced. But it’s also how we will reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, a dependence that endangers our economy and our security. And it is how we will combat the threat of climate change and leave our children a planet that’s safer than the one we inherited.
Harnessing new forms of energy will be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. And unfortunately, right now the United States, the nation that pioneered the use of clean energy, is being outpaced by nations around the world. It’s China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We spearheaded the development of solar technology, but we’ve fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. And almost all of the batteries that we use to power our hybrid vehicles are still manufactured by Japanese companies or in Asia -- though, because of one of the steps like the one we’re taking today, we’re beginning to produce more of these batteries here at home.
Now, I welcome and am pleased to see a real competition emerging around the world to develop these kinds of clean energy technologies. Competition is what fuels innovation. But I don’t want America to lose that competition. I don’t want the industries that yield the jobs of tomorrow to be built overseas. I don’t want the technology that will transform the way we use energy to be invented abroad. I want the United States of America to be what it has always been -- and that is a leader -- the leader when it comes to a clean energy future.
And that’s exactly what this clean energy manufacturing initiative will help us do. It will help close the clean energy gap that’s grown between America and other nations. Through this initiative, we’re awarding $2.3 billion in tax credits for American manufacturers of clean energy technologies -- companies that build wind turbines, and produce solar panels, and assemble cutting edge batteries. The initiative we’re outlining today will likely generate 17,000 jobs, and the roughly $5 billion more that we’ll leverage in the private sector investments could help create tens of thousands of additional jobs.
At the same time, this initiative will give a much-needed boost to our manufacturing sector by building new plants or upgrading old ones. And we’ll take an important step toward meeting the goal I’ve set of doubling the amount of renewable power we use in the next three years with wind turbines and solar panels built right here in the U.S. of A. Put simply, this initiative is good for middle-class families. It is good for our security. It’s good for our planet.
Over 180 projects in over 40 states will receive these tax credits. And one of them is TPI Composites, Inc., which is based in Newton, Iowa -- one of America’s leading wind turbine manufacturers. Because of these tax credits, TPI Composites will not only be able to expand an existing facility in Newton, they’ll not only be able to build a brand new facility in Nebraska, they’ll also be able to hire over 200 new workers. And it’s my hope that similar stories will be told in cities and towns across America because of this initiative.
In fact, this initiative has been so popular that we have far more qualified applicants than we’ve been able to fund. We received requests for roughly three times as much in funding -- $7.6 billion -- as we could provide. And that’s why, as part of the jobs package on which I’m urging Congress to act, I’ve called for investing another $5 billion in this program, which could put even more Americans to work right away building and equipping clean energy manufacturing facilities here in the United States.
In the letters that I receive at night, and I -- many of you know I get about 10 letters a night that I take a look at -- I often hear from Americans who are facing hard times -- Americans who’ve lost their jobs, or can’t afford to pay their bills; they’re worried about what the future holds. I am confident that if we harness the ingenuity of companies like TPI Composites; if we can tap the talents of our workers, and our innovators, and our entrepreneurs; if we can gain the lead in clean energy worldwide; then we’ll forge a future where a better life is possible in our country over the long run. That’s a future we’re now closer to building because of the steps that we’re taking today.
Thank you very much, everybody.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.