President Barack Obama on Friday emphasized the "good news" in the otherwise dreary April 2012 jobs figures: a drop in the national unemployment rate from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent.
"The unemployment rate ticked down again," the president said in a speech to a raucous and friendly crowd of students at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va. "So after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created more than 4.2 million new jobs over the last 26 months—more than 1 million jobs in the last six months alone. So that's the good news."
But the good news isn't all that rosy. The economy created just 115,000 jobs last month, below expectations, and the slight ebb in the unemployment rate was chiefly due to people giving up on looking for work—and therefore no longer being counted in the figure.
"There are still a lot of folks out of work, which means that we've got to do more," said Obama, whose re-election hopes will turn on voters' perceptions of the economy. "If we're going to recover all the jobs that were lost during the recession, and if we're going to build a secure economy that strengthens the middle class, then we're going to have to do more."
The president, under heavy fire from Republicans who charge that his policies have not done enough to spur the sluggish recovery, pushed lawmakers to pass parts of his jobs plan. "My message to Congress is going to be, just saying 'no' to ideas that will create new jobs is not an option. There's too much at stake for us not to all be rowing in the same direction," he said. Obama also encouraged lawmakers to approve White House-backed legislation to prevent interest rates on a popular kind of student loan from doubling come July 1—and invited the students to take to social media to help.
"I want you to send a message to Congress. Tell them, 'Don't double my rate,'" he said. "You should call them, you should email them, write on their Facebook page, tweet them. Teach your parents how to tweet."
House Republicans have passed their version of the bill, which Obama opposes because it is paid for by tapping into a preventative health care fund in his landmark health care law.
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