President Barack Obama said his economic-stimulus program is gradually pulling the U.S. out of its deepest recession in decades and laying a foundation for a better future.
“We were bleeding jobs at a rate of 750,000 per month the January I was sworn in,” Obama said in Holland, Michigan. “Now the economy is adding private-sector jobs, and has been for six straight months.”
The president spoke at the groundbreaking of a factory for Compact Power Inc., a unit of South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. that got a $151 million stimulus grant to make electric-vehicle batteries.
He’s defending his economic-stimulus program as polls show the U.S. public isn’t convinced of its success and is wary of a growing deficit.
Michigan has lost about 94,000 jobs since Obama took office. The state unemployment rate climbed to 13.6 percent in May from 11.3 percent in January 2009, Labor Department figures show.
Michigan has collected more than $13.5 billion in stimulus money, of which more than half, about $8.7 billion, has been spent. An estimated 102,000 jobs in the state have been saved or created, the White House said in a fact sheet.
The Holland area has received $472 million in stimulus money, most of it to promote clean-energy manufacturing, the White House said.
The president said the new plant will employ more than 300 workers who will produce batteries for General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Volt and Ford Motor Co.’s Focus Electric vehicles.
“That means that by 2012, the batteries will be manufactured in Holland, Michigan,” Obama said. “So when you buy one of these vehicles, the battery could be stamped ‘Made in America’ -- just like the car.”
“This is about more than just building a new factory; it’s about building a better future,” he said. “It’s going to take time to reverse the toll of the deepest downturn in a generation.” Still, “we are headed in the right direction.”
Obama and other administration officials have stepped up their defense of the stimulus measure, which was passed shortly after the president took office. The president spent a two-day trip to Missouri and Nevada last week talking about government spending on battery-driven trucks and tax credits that encourage clean-energy manufacturing.
An administration report released yesterday said the stimulus package will help encourage $280 billion of investment by private industry and local governments that leads to job creation. About 3 million jobs have been “saved or created” by the legislation so far, the report said.
Republicans have said the stimulus is wasteful, hasn’t reduced unemployment and has added to the record budget deficit.
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, writing in the Detroit News today, said the jobless rate in Holland is 11.8 percent, higher than the 9.5 percent U.S. average, and that Michigan is one of 48 states that lost jobs since the stimulus package was enacted in February 2009.
“This isn’t the picture of recovery; it’s the epitome of failure,” Boehner wrote in the opinion piece.
Obama today ridiculed the opposition, saying “there are some who want to go back -- who think we should return to the policies that actually led to the recession.
“And some of them have made the political calculation that it’s better to obstruct than lend a hand,” he said. “They said no to the tax cuts, to the small business loans, to the clean energy projects.
In an interview with NBC News taped before he left Michigan, Obama said he was confident the economy is headed in the right direction and that a reversal of his policies, which some Republicans have called for, would slow growth.
He acknowledged that from the perspective of those without jobs, “the economic policies aren’t working well enough.”
“What I’d say to the person who’s out of a job right now is we are gonna be doing everything we can to create the environment where the private sector can come in and start creating jobs,” he said. “I expect to be held accountable.”
Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, said Obama shouldn’t boast about 600,000 jobs created in the past six months.
“We need to create 150,000 jobs a month just to stay even,” Morici said in an interview. “To make a dent in the unemployment rate, you need to go over 150,000,” in new jobs per month.
“We’re not growing anywhere near the pace to do that,” he said.
The White House hasn’t made much progress in selling the stimulus spending to voters. Asked how their opinion of the stimulus has changed in recent months, respondents to a Bloomberg National Poll split almost evenly among those who say they had become more supportive, those who are less supportive and those who haven’t changed their opinion.
In his appearance today, Obama highlighted $2.4 billion in stimulus spending aimed at encouraging development of new battery and electric-vehicle technology.
According to a Department of Energy report, the spending will raise the U.S.’s manufacturing capacity for advanced-vehicle batteries to 40 percent of the world market by 2015 from 2 percent.
“We can’t succeed in the 21st century relying on 20th century technology,” said David Sandalow, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for policy and international affairs.