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Obama Vows Strong Action on Economy Amid More Recession Signs


In further signs of economic difficulties President-elect Barack Obama will deal with as he takes over the White House in January, the U.S. jobless rate climbed to a 14-year high, another indication the economy is in recession. Major U.S. automakers also delivered more bad news. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the economic situation was the primary focus of Mr. Obama's first news conference in Chicago Friday, after he met with a team of economic experts.

At the end of Friday trading in New York, the key Dow Jones Industrial average had a small rally, closing up just over 248 points, after swings in positive territory throughout the day.

End of week results followed two straight declines of 929 points, the worst consecutive day point losses since 1987, and the worst post-Election Day declines in the history of the Dow.

Friday brought more pessimistic news about the economy. In the month of October 240,000 jobs were lost in the month of October, pushing unemployment to 6.5 percent.

That is the highest since 1994, nearly a half percentage point increase from September, all but erasing remaining doubts that the economy is in recession.

In October 10.1 million people were unemployed, a 2.8 million increase over the past year. At the same time, in 2007, the unemployment rate stood at 4.8 percent.

Other dismal news included a decline in retail sales, and disturbing reports from the U.S. auto industry. Ford Motor Company announced a $129 million third quarter loss, and cuts of more than 2,200 U.S. jobs. General Motors reported third-quarter operating losses of $4.2 billion.

President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden met in Chicago Friday with a team of economic experts and advisors. In a news conference, Mr. Obama called for an economic rescue plan for Americans, saying he intends to act strongly once he takes office.

"We need a rescue plan for the middle class that invests in immediate efforts to create jobs and provides relief to families that are watching their pay checks shrink and their life savings disappear," he said.

He said a priority should be extending unemployment benefits for those unable to find work, and efforts to address the spreading impact on small businesses and state and local governments facing budget difficulties.

On Friday, President Bush again pointed to what he called aggressive and decisive measures his administration has taken to stabilize markets, adding it will take some time for various measures to have an impact on the economy.

Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said the president understands the burdens Americans face, but avoided putting a recession label on the economic situation.

"He understands that Americans are deeply concerned about the challenges our economy is facing, but we have overcome these challenges in the past and he is confident that with the actions that we're taking we will be able to do so again," he said.

While President-elect Obama said there is only one presidential administration in charge at the moment, he called a new fiscal stimulus plan long overdue, adding he wants to see Congress pass a package sooner rather than later.

But whether a so-called 'lame duck' session of Congress to approve legislation will occur at all is in doubt. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that, aside from an effort to help the auto industry, trying to push it through without cooperation from Senate Republicans and the White House would not be useful.

Fratto said the White House is open to ideas about what form a stimulus effort would take, but added that until Congress clarifies its intentions, the administration will focus on steps it is already taking.

Mr. Obama said, among his priorities is a review of the Bush administration's implementation of its financial program to ensure that it is achieving the goal of stabilizing financial markets, while protecting taxpayers and helping homeowners.

Republicans fired more preemptive shots at Democratic stimulus proposals, and indirectly at President-elect Obama's stated intentions for the economy.

House Minority Leader John Boehner criticized Democrats' plans to spend as much as $100 billion more, saying Congress should be cutting business and individual taxes, rather than increasing spending on government programs.

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