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President Obama Highlights Need to Combat US Joblessness

President Barack Obama waves as he is introduced on stage during a Labor Day event at Detroit's Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, in Detroit, Michigan, September 5, 2011.
President Barack Obama waves as he is introduced on stage during a Labor Day event at Detroit's Renaissance Center, headquarters of General Motors, in Detroit, Michigan, September 5, 2011.
Michael Bowman

U.S. President Barack Obama says America’s jobless should be put to work as part of a comprehensive program to boost a languishing economy. The president marked Monday’s U.S. Labor Day holiday with a speech in Detroit, Michigan, one of America’s most-economically depressed cities.

At a time of sluggish U.S. economic growth and stubbornly high unemployment, President Barack Obama acknowledged the obvious.

“These are tough times for working Americans," he said. "They are even tougher for Americans who are looking for work, and a lot of them have been looking for a long time.”

Home to what was once the world’s biggest car making hub, Michigan has seen hundreds of industries shrink or disappear altogether, and is currently enduring a 10.9 percent unemployment rate, nearly two points higher than the national average. In Detroit, joblessness has hovered between 20 and 30 percent in recent years.

President Obama said the nation can forge a better economic future if it unleashes workers on infrastructure projects.

“We have got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding," he said. "We have got private companies with the equipment and the manpower to do the building. We have got more than one-million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now. There is work to be done, and there are workers ready to do it.”

Obama urged the U.S. Congress to “get on board” with an infrastructure program.

Thursday, the president will lay out his economic agenda before a joint session of Congress. Although the White House has provided few details in advance, Obama’s proposals are expected to include a substantial federal push to boost employment in the United States.

Already, Republicans are lining up in opposition to a government-directed jobs initiative. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination to challenge Obama in 2012, told supporters in South Carolina the key to Texas’ relatively low unemployment rate is a vibrant private sector and a state government that does not over-extend itself.

“We [have] got to get America back working again," said Perry. "And government’s role is to create an environment [conducive to job growth]. I did not create those jobs. Americans created those jobs. Texans created those jobs, because we allowed them to have an environment where they were not overtaxed, overregulated, or over-litigated. We got out of the way and let the private sector do what the private sector does best: create jobs.”

Celebrated on the first Monday of September, Labor Day became a national holiday in the late 1800s, a period of significant labor strife in the United States.  

Although major strikes are less common today and American union membership has declined in recent decades, Labor Day remains a time to reflect upon and celebrate the sacrifices and contributions of workers to the nation’s progress and prosperity. In many Americans’ minds, it is also a time to mark the end of summer.

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