WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama promised Saturday to do “whatever it takes” to maintain growth in the US economy as he announced a summit with business leaders dedicated to job creation at home.
“This year, I’m going to keep doing whatever it takes to move this economy forward and to make sure that middle class families regain the security they’ve lost over the past decade,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
“That’s my New Year’s resolution to all of you,” he added.
The comments came after new government statistics showed US unemployment had fallen for the fourth straight month in December and jobs creation picked up.
In its keenly awaited monthly jobs report Friday, the Labor Department said the unemployment rate slipped to 8.5 percent as 200,000 jobs were added last month.
The jobless rate is the lowest since February 2009, the month after President Barack Obama took office amid the worst US recession in decades.
As recently as August the rate stood at 9.1 percent, and economists cheered the new numbers as evidence that economic growth, feeble throughout much of 2011, was gaining traction.
Obama said the new drop in unemployment numbers showed the country is “heading in the right direction,” but more needs to be done.
“We’ve got to keep at it. We’ve got to keep creating jobs,” he said in the address.
“And we’ve got to keep rebuilding our economy so that everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share – and everyone plays by the same rules. We can’t go back to the days when the financial system was stacking the deck against ordinary Americans. To me, that’s not an option.”
The president announced that on Wednesday, the White House will host a forum called “Insourcing American Jobs,” during which he will discuss with business leaders ways of bringing back home the jobs that had been “outsourced” to foreign markets.
Obama has backed government investment to generate jobs, while opposition Republicans have resisted, arguing that government spending has been holding back private hiring.
A total of 1.6 million jobs were created over the past 12 months.
Friday’s jobs report was stronger than generally expected. Analysts on average had forecast a rise in the jobless rate and weaker job gains of 150,000.
“Unfortunately, we need more like 300,000 jobs (a month) to get the unemployment rate coming down consistently and rapidly, and that is not likely to happen this year,” said Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors.
The number of unemployed people continued to trend down in December, to 13.1 million, after topping 14 million in mid-2011. Hourly wages and hours worked rose.
But the data showed the lingering deep strains in the labor market since the recession ended in June 2009.
The number counted as long-term unemployed — people without a job for 27 weeks or more — barely budged at 5.6 million, or 42.5 percent of the unemployed.
Other indicators were flat, including the labor force participation rate, unchanged at 64 percent.
The private sector again delivered all of the job gains, adding 212,000 in December.
Governments at all levels shed a net 12,000 jobs, a slower pace of layoffs amid strained budgets.
The job gains were broad-based, with jobs added in transportation and warehousing, retail trade, manufacturing, health care, and mining.
Analysts cautioned that big risks remained in front of the long, slow jobs recovery, including tensions with Iran over its nuclear problem, which could lead to higher oil prices, and Europe’s public debt crisis that has pushed the 17-nation eurozone to the brink of recession. Both could hamper US growth