Obama Says Improving Job Training Key to More Growth

President Barack Obama said Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Apple Inc. and Ford Motor Co. are among about 300 companies that have pledged to take part in an initiative to help the long-term unemployed find jobs.

Obama is convening a meeting of company chief executive officers at the White House tomorrow to advance a program he laid out in his State of the Union address earlier this week.

The administration and the companies will “establish best practices” so that they don’t “screen people out of the hiring process just because they’ve been out of work for a long time,” Obama said in an interview with CNN. He didn’t say which companies would attend tomorrow’s meeting.

While the national unemployment rate has declined to 6.7 percent, almost 4 million people have been out of work for more than six months, three times the pre-recession average.

As part of his vow to bypass a politically divided Congress to advance his economic agenda, Obama is combining executive actions with attempts to enlist the aid of U.S. companies to meet his goals. He has a separate effort with companies including Microsoft Corp., Sprint Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. to help bring broadband and wireless technology to more public schools.

Obama was in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where he used the backdrop of a General Electric Co. plant to highlight the need for better job training to ensure that companies can continue to expand manufacturing capacity.

Programs Reviewed

He said Vice President Joe Biden will lead a review of federal job-training programs to ensure that the skills they teach meet the demands of employers. As part of the initiative, Obama said he’s also setting aside $500 million for community colleges, rewarding them for creating the best job-driven training partnerships with employers and industry.

Obama spoke hours after the Commerce Department reported that the world’s largest economy expanded at a 3.2 percent pace in the fourth quarter, following a 4.1 percent advance in the previous three months. He said the economy’s growth, while a positive sign that the recovery is accelerating, hasn’t been evenly distributed.

“Most folks’ wages haven’t gone up in over a decade,” Obama said in front of crowd of GE employees and local and state officials. There are “too many Americans working harder than ever just to get by.”

Republicans Respond

The Republican leadership of the House responded to Obama’s remarks in a letter to the president today, saying Biden’s review of job-training programs isn’t needed because the Government Accountability Office just completed one on Jan. 28.

The letter, signed by House Speaker John Boehner and the three other Republican leaders in the chamber, also cited legislation passed by the House in March, “which would consolidate the myriad of federal job training programs to focus resources on the programs that work, more closely link employment training to available jobs.”

They urged Obama to press Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, to act on the House-passed bill “so that we may resolve any differences that exist” so it could become law by the end of February.

Obama’s trip to GE’s Gas Engines manufacturing facility in the southeastern part Wisconsin marked his second day of travel outside Washington to promote the agenda outlined in the Jan. 28 State of the Union address.

Yesterday, he campaigned to have Congress raise the federal minimum wage in Lanham, Maryland, and rolled out a retirement savings plan at a steel plant outside Pittsburgh. Later today, he is scheduled to talk about education in Nashville, Tennessee.

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