GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Facing another dismal employment report, President Obama acknowledged Friday that the United States is not creating jobs fast enough and warned of “serious headwinds” outside the nation’s control that continue to hamper the economic recovery.
Obama made only a glancing reference to the Labor Department’s report that the economy added just 69,000 jobs in May — well below economists’ predictions — during an appearance at a manufacturing facility here.
But the specter of the slowing jobs market loomed over the president’s remarks as he again pressed Congress to support his economic agenda.
“The economy is growing again, but not as fast as we want it to grow,” Obama told a crowd at the Honeywell Automation and Control Solutions manufacturing facility here, just outside Minneapolis.
Citing the European debt crisis and high gasoline prices, Obama added that formidable obstacles “cast a shadow” over the U.S. economy.
“We have lot work to do to get where we need to be,” Obama said. “All these factors make it all the more challenging not just to recover but to lay the foundation for an economy built to last over the long term. But that’s our job.”
The monthly jobs numbers came as the Obama campaign has been under constant assault from Republican challenger Mitt Romney over the president’s stewardship of the economy. The debate has prompted a strong reaction from Obama, who has opened a double-barreled attack on Romney’s record on jobs during his time as head of Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and as Massachusetts governor.
Polls show that voters consider the weak economy the most important issue of the campaign, and both camps have pressed their cases in swing states with heavy appeals to independent voters.
Romney, whose campaign has centered on his business acumen as he seeks to convince voters he can oversee a faster economic recovery, pounced on the weak jobs report to hammer Obama.
The numbers are a “harsh indictment of the president’s handling of the economy,” Romney said in a statement. “It is now clear to everyone that President Obama’s policies have failed to achieve their goals and that the Obama economy is crushing America’s middle class.”
Minnesota, a reliably Democratic state in presidential elections, has a remarkably low unemployment rate of 5.8 percent. But as he has for months, Obama used the stop at the Honeywell plant to demand that Congress support a series of White House proposals that the president said would quickly boost job creation.
The five proposals, which Obama calls a Congressional “to-do list,” include tax breaks for companies that return jobs from overseas and low-interest loans for homeowners seeking to refinance. At Honeywell, Obama emphasized a proposal to create a Veterans Jobs Corps to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars find jobs that meet their skills upon leaving the military.
Obama has sought to use congressional Republicans as a foil to highlight his administration’s effort to take stronger actions, which he says have been stymied by an obstructionist GOP intent on winning political points in an election year.
Republicans have countered that the president’s jobs agenda does not do enough to curb spending and reduce the spiraling debt.
“There's no excuse for it — not when so many people are out there looking for work,” Obama said of congressional inaction.
“It’s not lost on anybody that it’s an election year. I understand that. I’ve noticed,” Obama continued, drawing shouts of “four more years!” “But we’ve got responsibilities that are bigger than an election. My message to Congress now is that it’s not time to play politics, not time to sit on your hands. Americans expect their leaders to work hard no matter what year it is.”
The debate has picked up new urgency as the job growth numbers have slowed.
During the winter months, as hiring picked up and the economy added more than 200,000 jobs each month from December through February, Obama grew increasingly confident in his public remarks.
Although he was careful to say each time that more work had to be done to ensure a full and faster recovery, the president sounded an upbeat note in early March during an appearance at a Rolls Royce factory in Prince George, Va., on the day the February jobs report, showing a net gain of 227,000 jobs, was issued.
“More companies are bringing jobs back and investing in America, and manufacturing is adding jobs for first time since the 1990s,” he said then. “We just had another good month last month in terms of adding manufacturing jobs. The economy is getting stronger.”
But hiring fell dramatically in March, when 120,000 jobs were added, and the bad news has continued since then. The May report also revised the April jobs numbers downward, from 115,000 to 77,000.
The administration, and the Obama campaign, have sought to emphasize what White House spokesman Joshua Earnest on Friday called “longer-term trends” that show the economy adding private-sector jobs for 24 consecutive months.
Obama, as he has for months, reminded his supporters that his administration inherited a bleak financial picture during the Great Recession in 2009
“From the moment we first took action prevent another depression, we knew the road to recover would not be easy. We knew there would be ups and downs along the way,” he said. “But we also knew if we willing to keep at it, if we were willing to roll up our sleeves and never quit, we would not just come back but come back stronger than ever.
“That continues to be my belief. We will come back stronger. We will have better days ahead.”
After speaking at the Honeywell facility, Obama was scheduled to attend three campaign fundraising events in Minneapolis, then fly to Chicago for three more fundraisers in his home town.
He will remain overnight in Chicago and sleep at his home in Kenwood, perhaps a momentary respite from the political headaches that await back in Washington.