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Hiring's Up, So Will Obama Keep His Job?


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Hiring in the United States actually picked up a bit last month. According to the Labor Department, employers added more than 100,000 workers to their payrolls. Now, that's better than many forecasters were expecting, but certainly not good enough for the 14 million Americans who are still out of work. The Obama administration seized on the jobs numbers to renew its argument that Congress could help accelerate hiring by passing President Obama's jobs plan. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Economists who were bracing for another dismal jobs report may have breathed a small sigh of relief yesterday. Not only were September's numbers slightly better than expected, but employment numbers for July and August were adjusted upwards as well. That suggests the U.S. economy has not slipped into a double-dip recession, at least not yet. But White House economic advisor Gene Sperling says the pace of hiring is still far too slow.

GENE SPERLING: The reason why the president's not close to being satisfied is that when you have such high unemployment driven by such a deep recession that he inherited, you need much stronger job growth to help bring the unemployment rate down. That has to be our goal.

HORSLEY: For now, the unemployment rate is stuck at 9.1 percent and millions more people who would like to be working full time have had to settle for part-time jobs. It's risky to read too much into any one month's numbers, but economist Nigel Gault of IHS Global Insights says it's clear hiring has slowed dramatically from earlier this year.

NIGEL GAULT: August was pretty soft and then September was actually a bit softer than August, so good news we're still moving ahead. We're not at zero. We're showing positive numbers, just those positive number aren't very big.

HORSLEY: And with the economy growing so slowly, one more shock from a debt-ridden Europe, for example, could easily tip the U.S. back into recession. White House spokesman Jay Carney says that's why President Obama's latest argument for his jobs plan is to call it an insurance policy against a possible double dip.

JAY CARNEY: We do not believe that it will happen, but there is no question that the economy has slowed, growth has slowed and job creation has slowed. It is obvious to everyone virtually that we need to take action to improve that situation.

SIMON: The action Mr. Obama has proposed is $447 billion worth of tax breaks and government spending. One part of his plan would give money to state and local governments to help keep teachers and police officers on the payroll. Cash trapped local governments have had to cut more than half a million workers over the last three years, including 35,000 last month alone.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We know that the biggest problem that we've had in terms of unemployment over the last several months has not been in the private sector. It has actually been layoffs of teachers and cops and fire fighters. We've created over 2 million jobs in the private sector, a million jobs this year alone in the private sector. But in the public sector, we keep on seeing these layoffs having an adverse effect on economies in states all across the country.

HORSLEY: Congressional Republicans remain wary of the additional spending in the president's jobs plan as well as the future tax increases that might be needed to pay for it. Economic advisor Sperling argued again this week if Republicans are intent on blocking Mr. Obama's plan, they should offer something better.

SPERLING: The top independent forecasters like Moody's, like Macroeconomics Advisors forecast that the president's plan would create up to 1.9 million more jobs next year. And I think it's very important that anyone who does not support the American Jobs Act at least be willing to put forward their own plan that these same top independent forecasters would also say would add up to 1.9 million more jobs.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama met yesterday with top Senate Democrats to discuss how to move his jobs plan forward. A test vote in the Senate could come next week. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.