While acknowledging an "astounding" number of job losses, President Obama told critics of his $787 billion economic recovery plan yesterday that it is saving jobs.
He suggested that critics who called the stimulus plan "unwise and unnecessary" should talk to 25 police recruits in Ohio's capital city who owe their jobs to stimulus spending. And "talk to the teachers who are still able to teach our children because we passed this plan," he said.
During a graduation ceremony for the police recruits, Obama also noted "the nurses who are still able to care for our sick and the firefighters and first responders who are still able to keep our communities safe."
Obama said the stimulus plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs in the next two years. But jobs numbers out yesterday showed that even if that happens, the economy won't be back to even.
The unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent last month, the highest since late 1983, with the loss of another 651,000 jobs. Three million Americans have been unemployed for at least six months. That means that since the recession began in December 2007, the economy has lost 4.4 million jobs.
Despite the numbers, Obama said the stimulus plan, which drew scant Republican support in Congress, is paying dividends.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced yesterday that her department is making available more than $3.5 billion to states for job training and reemployment services. "We will continue to do whatever is necessary to break the destructive cycle of job loss in this country and put Americans back to work," she said in a statement.
Obama cited the extended unemployment benefits, healthcare provisions, and tax credits that will show up in bigger paychecks April 1. He also announced that $2 billion in grants for more police officers, prosecutors, probation officers, crime-prevention programs, and equipment are now being made available.
"I look at these young men and women, I look into their eyes and I see their badges today, and I know we did the right thing," Obama said, with the city's 114th police recruit class seated behind him on stage.
He said the police recruits had faced a future of joblessness, the same "future that millions of Americans still face right now."
"Well, that is not a future I accept for the United States of America," Obama declared, explaining why he signed the stimulus bill on Feb. 17.
The recruits were laid off in January before they could even start walking the beat. Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democrat, blamed city budget problems. But last week Coleman announced that the Justice Department had told the city it would get $1.25 million in stimulus funds to cover the officers' salaries through Dec. 31.
The recruits were rehired using money from a grant program given $2 billion in the stimulus plan. Breann Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Representative Pat Tiberi, one of eight Ohio Republicans who voted against the stimulus, noted that the money that saved the recruits' job will run out next year. Coleman hasn't said how he will pay the officers' salaries after that.
"This stimulus represents a very temporary solution to an even larger problem," Gonzalez said.
Last month, 32 recruits graduated from the Worcester police academy but were immediately laid off because of budget cutbacks.
Obama acknowledged that "by itself, this recovery plan won't turn our economy around or solve every problem."
He said his administration is working aggressively to ease the credit crunch, help homeowners stave off foreclosures, and to make progress on "major economic challenges" such as healthcare costs and energy independence. "All of this takes time and it will take patience," he said. "It will entail great effort and cooperation."