President Barack Obama on Friday took credit for the latest jobs report, saying the 4.9 percent rate shows his stewardship has made the U.S. economy the “strongest and most durable" in the world.
The Labor Department on Friday released data that was a mixed bag for both American workers and the Obama administration. The numbers showed the lowest unemployment rate in eight years and rising wages; they also concluded that 151,000 new jobs were created in January, down from three consecutive months during which nearly 300,000 jobs were created per month.
“After reaching 10 percent in 2009, the unemployment rate has now fallen to 4.9 percent even as more American joined the job market last month,” Obama told reporters during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room. “Americans are working.” The president at several points said his administration’s handling of the economy has yielded great progress since the global fiscal collapse of 2007-2008.
He noted 14 million jobs have been added to payrolls since he was sworn in in January 2009, and noted that in 2014 and 2015, the economy created more jobs than at any point since the 1990s.
Such “progress,” Obama said, “must be "inconvenient" for some GOP presidential candidates, whom he accused of running campaigns based largely on "gloom and despair" descriptions of the state of the economy.
Republican lawmakers were quick to criticize the last month of Obama’s economic stewardship.
“Today’s job creation figure is lower what was anticipated by economists surveyed prior to today’s report,” Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming said in a statement. He said some experts had “anticipated job growth of 185,000.”
“Today’s weaker-than-expected payroll number signals that recent stock-market turmoil and economic weakness abroad have prompted some caution among businesses,” Barrasso added.
Joint Economic Committee Chairman Dan Coats, R-Ind., said the Labor Department figures “failed to meet expectations and provides further evidence that many Americans are still struggling in this economy.”
“As we begin a new year, it is disappointing to see that our nation’s economic output remains sluggish and job growth continues to be tepid.
“Labor force participation rates remain near a recovery low, even among workers in their prime working years,” Coats said. “It’s taking the long-term unemployed far too long to find work — an average of 202 days. Unease remains and will continue to linger until our leaders work together to fix our broken tax code and eliminate stifling regulations.”
For his part, Obama acknowledged there remains work to be done to fully recover from what he called a lingering “hangover” from the 2007-08 fiscal crisis. But he took umbrage with a question from a reporter about the economy’s participation rate, saying it “didn’t drop.”
“More people are entering the job force and finding work,” he said.
During what was an impromptu — and brief — question-and-answer session following a prepared statement, Obama said his administration will be stressing during its final year that “we should be proud of the progress we’ve made.”
The basis of that argument — which the White House will be broadcasting during a national election year — echoes a theme of his final State of the Union address, that the U.S. economy is “stronger and more durable” than any other major global economy.
“It’s sort of like, I’m 54 now so I’ve got to work out harder to stay in shape,” Obama said. “If I’m feeling good in the gym, I want to acknowledge what I’m doing is working. Otherwise, I’ll go off and have a big bacon cheeseburger or something.”
Obama used what he sees as a positive economic trajectory to deliver a sales pitch for his 2017 federal budget plan, which he will send to Congress on Tuesday.
That spending plan, if adopted by lawmakers, will include proposals intended to "keep our foot on the accelerator" of the economic progress made during his tenure. He also said the spending plan is about "not subsidizing the past" but would propose things to invest in forward-looking efforts like increasing research on "clean energy."
As the White House has leaked details of Obama’s final spending plan, many Republican lawmakers have declared each proposal dead on arrival.
One is a $10-per-barrel fee on domestically produced and imported oil and oil products to help pay for transportation improvements and, as Obama said Friday, transition the country away from “dirty fuels.”
"It's right to do it now when gas prices are low," Obama told reporters. The fee would not be a "disruptive" force on the broader U.S. economy," he added.
Top Republicans were not impressed.
“President Obama's proposed $10-per-barrel tax on oil is dead on arrival in the House,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said Thursday in a statement. "From day one of President Obama’s Administration, he has waged open warfare on American energy and his radical policies have cost jobs while increasing costs on hard-working families."
In a lighter moment on Friday, Obama declined to give a Super Bowl pick because his hometown Chicago Bears are not in the big game. The NFC Champion Carolina Panthers face the AFC Champion Denver Broncos Sunday evening in Santa Clara, Calif., in the 50th installment of the NFL's championship game.
"I am hoping for a great game," Obama said.
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