President Barack Obama has defended his economic policies, saying the latest disappointing national employment figures demonstrate that more work needs to be done despite some growth in the economy. The president's remarks Friday were made at an automobile plant in Toledo, Ohio.
As the president touched down in Ohio, one of several states that will be important for his re-election prospects in 2012, the latest employment figures and reaction to them were in the spotlight.
According to the latest Department of Labor figures, the national jobless rate grew to 9.1% in May, a most unwelcome increase after several months in which the White House has tried to keep the public focused on overall job growth over 15 months.
The net increase in employment was only 54,000 jobs, a significant decline from the past three months when the monthly average for new jobs was 220,000. At the same time, private companies hired only 83,000 new workers - the lowest level in almost a year.
Back at the White House, the head of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, emphasized that 2.1 million jobs were added in the private sector over the past 15 months.
Goolsbee pointed to the addition of 238,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector since 2010 and what he called "solid" increases in specific sectors. Monthly employment and unemployment numbers, he added, are volatile, saying "it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report."
The president's purpose in Toledo, at a Chrysler plant involved in manufacturing Jeep vehicles, was to again underscore the success his administration's policies had in reviving the U.S. auto industry.
The federal government spent about $80 billion to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, saving hundreds of thousands of jobs. Obama said failure of the auto industry would have triggered a "cascade of damage."
"So this industry is back on its feet, repaying its debts, gaining ground," he said. "And because of you, we can once again say that the best cars in the world are built right here in the USA, right here in Ohio, right here in the midwest."
Noting that the government had been completely repaid, and six years ahead of schedule, for what he called the investments made in Chrysler under his watch, Obama said the government would soon sell its remaining interest in the company, returning it to 100 percent private ownership.
Without specifically mentioning the new unemployment figures, Obama said the economy has faced "headwinds," including high gas prices, the economic impacts of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the situation in the Middle East - and still faces an uphill climb.
"We still face some tough times, we still face some challenges," said the president. "This economy took a big hit. Just like if you had a bad illness, if you got hit by a truck. It's going to take a while for it to mend and that is what has happened to our economy. It's going to take a while for it to mend."
The brief appearance in Toledo was the model for other such trips that Obama will make across the country in coming months, to promote his policies amid a still unsteady economic recovery, and as his 2012 re-election campaigning picks up speed.
Back in Washington, Obama is immersed in ongoing negotiations with Congress on bringing down deficit spending and the national debt, led by Vice President Joe Biden, and the pressing issue of achieving an agreement on raising the U.S. debt ceiling.