By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009 11:00 AM
President Obama, grappling with the worst job market in a generation, announced plans Thursday to hold a White House jobs summit in December.
The forum, which will gather business executives, economists, financial experts and union leaders, will be aimed at examining initiatives to accelerate job creation, Obama said.
"We all know there are limits to what government can and should do even during such difficult times," Obama said. "But we have an obligation to consider every additional, responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country."
Obama's announcement comes less than a week after the nation's jobless rate hit 10.2 percent, the highest level since 1983. The surging jobless rate -- which economists predict will continue to rise well into next year -- offers fresh evidence that the economy, though expanding, has not yet grown enough to create new jobs.
In his remarks, Obama credited steps his administration has taken to stabilize the financial markets and stimulate the economy for reversing the steepest economic slide the nation has experienced since the Great Depression.
But while the administration's policies have contributed to a rebounding stock market and overall growth in the economy, it has yet to reverse the slide in jobs. The president called the problem "one of the great challenges that remains in our economy."
White House aides said no date has been set for the forum. And Obama himself tamped down expectations for the meeting, saying that while he wants to hear new ideas for creating jobs, it is "important we don't make any ill-considered decisions even with the best of intentions, particularly at a time when our resources are so limited."
Economists have been projecting that job growth would resume early in 2010 and that the unemployment rate would begin to drop by the middle of the year. But that forecast is in doubt because job losses in the past few months are decelerating very slowly. The weak job market confronts the Obama administration with a difficult political situation. The economy grew at a 3.5 percent rate in the third quarter, as measured by gross domestic product, and the president and his advisers have presented this as evidence that their policies to arrest the downturn are working.
But 15.7 million Americans were unemployed last month, and many others were underemployed, contributing to growing skepticism about the president's economic policies. Public opinion polls have found that a majority of adults viewed Obama's policies as either making the economy worse or having no effect.
In recent weeks, Obama has taken smaller steps to continue stimulating the economy. Last Friday, the president signed legislation that extends unemployment insurance benefits by up to 20 weeks and renews an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers while expanding eligibility. Earlier, the administration backed a controversial $250 payment to senior citizens.
Rather than offering a short-term fix for joblessness, the White House has been focused on a difficult, longer-term strategy for improving the nation's job market.
The administration has backed huge investments to stimulate the renewable energy industry, as part of a plan to wean the nation off the debt-driven consumer economy that has fueled growth in the recent past.
During his meetings with foreign leaders as he travels through Asia over the next week, Obama said, he would be touting his administration's plans to create an economy that is driven more by U.S. exports and innovation.