Obama highlights signs of economic growth

/ Source: The Associated Press

President Barack Obama said Saturday that reports the economy is growing again and that more than 1 million jobs were saved or created by his stimulus plan show "we are moving in the right direction."

But he tempered his upbeat message with a cautious word about further job losses and progress yet to be made.

Unemployment hit a 26-year high of 9.8 percent in September, and the October report due next week could show it topping 10 percent.

The government reported this week that the economy grew 3.5 percent from July through September, the first signs of growth in a year and unofficial confirmation that the economic slide that began in December 2007 is over. Separately, the White House said Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan — a mix of spending and tax cuts — had saved or created more than 1 million jobs.

That news, "while not cause for celebration, is certainly reason to believe that we are moving in the right direction," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"It is easy to forget that it was only several months ago that the economy was shrinking rapidly and many economists feared another Great Depression," the president said.

Obama's assessment came a day after an independent federal board reported that nearly 650,000 direct jobs have been saved or created because of stimulus program money provided to businesses, contractors, state and local governments, nonprofit groups and universities.

The new data released late Friday represents 156,614 federal contracts, grants and loans worth a total of $215 billion that went to more than 62,000 recipients. The largest number of jobs were created or saved by state governments. About half of the reported jobs were among teachers and other education employees. With state budgets in crisis, federal aid helped governors avoid major cuts in education, which officials said spared many teachers and school workers from the unemployment line.

The 1 million jobs cited by Obama include those from direct economic assistance, plus those linked to the economic boost from $288 billion in tax cuts under the stimulus program, according to White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein.

Republicans expressed doubt on the administration's job-creation claim. GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell described the jobs reports as "bewildering" when 3 million jobs have been lost since Congress approved the stimulus program.

'Progress to be made'
In his address, Obama acknowledged that economic growth is no substitute for job growth. He also telegraphed what is expected to be sour unemployment news when the October figures are released next Friday, saying: "We will likely see further job losses in the coming days."

"But we will not create the jobs we need unless the economy is growing," he said.

Job creation also depends on the willingness of consumers to open their wallets and purses. But on Friday, the Commerce Department reported a 0.5 percent decline in consumer spending in September. It was the first drop in five months and the biggest since last December.

Obama said his administration has taken steps to help get credit to people and businesses of all sizes, stem home foreclosures, cut taxes, create jobs and help people who need it, such as seniors and the unemployed.

"So we have made progress," he said. "At the same time, I want to emphasize that there's still plenty of progress to be made. For we know that the positive news for the economy as a whole means little if you've lost your job and can't find another, if you can't afford health care or the mortgage, if you do not see in your own life the improvement we are seeing in these economic statistics."