WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is pushing his administration's plans to create jobs, a crucial campaign issue for Democrats as they look toward November's midterm elections.
Obama planned remarks Friday at a North Carolina company that has hired new workers and expanded its operations with grants from the economic stimulus program. Obama's team wants to marry much-needed job creation with the politically sour stimulus, hoping that will help Democrats gain favor with voters after a bruising, yearlong battle with Republicans over health care.
Before Obama leaves for Charlotte, the Labor Department was to release March unemployment figures. White House officials hoped the jobless rate would continue its recent slow slide downward.
Republicans have created a steady drumbeat of criticism of Obama's stewardship of the economy and against his health care victory in the hopes voters blame Obama at the ballot box in November.
"If President Obama were serious about job creation, he would be spending less time on the campaign stump trying to sell Americans on a health care bill they don't like and can't afford and more time focusing on putting our nation back to work," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Katie Wright said.
Between now and November, Democrats are looking to illustrate their economic accomplishments. The White House said Obama on Friday would point to the Charlotte company, Celgard LLC, an advanced battery technology manufacturer, as an example of the economic progress made since he took office and again call on Congress to act on job-creating proposals.
Obama has pushed Congress to use $30 billion that had been set aside to bail out Wall Street to start a new program that provides loans to small businesses, which the White House calls the engine for job growth.
Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unexpected decline in the unemployment rate, from 10 percent to 9.7 percent. It was the first drop in seven months but offered little consolation for the 8.4 million jobs that have vanished since the recession began.
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on NBC that administration officials were "very worried" about recovering the jobs lost in the recession. But he noted that business growth has been improving and he expected the economy to start creating jobs again.
More than 11 million people now are drawing unemployment insurance benefits, and the overall jobless rate of 9.7 percent understates the true level of economic misery because many people who have given up looking for work are no longer in the official count of the unemployed.
A report Thursday said initial claims for unemployment benefits fell slightly last week as the recovering economy moves closer to generating more jobs. The Labor Department said new jobless benefit claims dropped 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000, nearly matching analysts' estimates. It was the fourth drop in five weeks.