Reporting from Washington — Disappointing job numbers in December demonstrate that, while the economy is improving, U.S. officials must redouble efforts to expand employment and win the fierce global competition to develop renewable energy sources that will accelerate job growth, President Obama said today.
Obama made his remarks on the day that a new government report showed the country lost 85,000 jobs last month, more than had been expected. Unemployment remained at 10% last month.
Speaking for six minutes in the East Room of the White House, Obama reminded listeners that overall job trends are promising. According to the administration, the nation shed an average of 691,000 jobs a month during the first quarter of 2009, compared to 69,000 in the last quarter.
"Job numbers that were released by the Labor Department this morning are a reminder that the road to recovery is never straight and that we have to continue to work every single day to get our economy moving again," the president said. "For most Americans, and for me, that means jobs."
Obama left the room without taking questions from reporters.
Other top officials echoed a sense of frustration over the new job numbers.
Christina Romer, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisors, said in an interview: "There's no way around saying it was something of a setback from what we had seen in November. We now know that we added jobs in November. I want to be adding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month."
In his remarks, the president announced the government was using $2.3 billion in economic stimulus funding for tax credits aimed at manufacturing projects that will produce nonpolluting energy. The money will go toward 83 projects in 43 states and will create "tens of thousands of high-quality clean-energy jobs," according to the White House.
Obama said the U.S. needs to encourage such projects, lest it lose a global race to create jobs through the development of alternative energy, including wind and solar.
"Harnessing new forms of energy will be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century," Obama said. "And unfortunately, right now the United States - the nation that pioneered the use of clean energy -- is being outpaced by nations around the world. It's China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy-efficient.
"We spearheaded the development of solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it."
The president added: "Now, I welcome and am pleased to see a real competition emerging around the world to develop these kinds of clean-energy technologies, but I don't want America to lose that competition."