Remarks by the President and Vice President at the Opening Session of the Jobs and Economic Growth Forum

Press Release

By:  Barack Obama II Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Dec. 3, 2009
Location: Unknown

Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building, South Court Auditorium, Washington, D.C.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Secretaries, members of the Cabinet, distinguished guests, I welcome you all here today. Your presence is welcomed, but quite frankly, it's not nearly as important as your input. We're looking to you. We're counting on you. We need help, for we realize that even after all we have done in these last 10 months that -- to revitalize American communities, our capacity, the government's capacity, is still somewhat limited. We can help -- we can help create the conditions that make for a stronger economy, make a stronger economy possible. But it's you, all of you in this audience here, who are in the position to make it a reality. To put it another way, without you it will not become a reality.

So our task together is obviously not an easy one. We've not faced this kind of economic dilemma in the lifetime of anyone in this room. And so building a new and invigorated platform upon which we can enter this century in a way that we can lead in the 21st century, the way we did in the 20th century, is at rock bottom what this is all about. No more bubbles. No more bubbles. You cannot sustain your world leadership based upon a housing bubble or a dot-com bubble; it's got to be based on a really firm foundation. I don't have to tell you. That's preaching to the choir, as they say where I'm from. I know you all understand that.

Look, the Recovery Act -- much maligned, but worked -- has worked very well -- the Recovery Act has played a vital role in kick starting this process. It has not only pulled us back from that abyss that we were looking at -- remember the -- remember your college days, having to study the essayist, Samuel Johnson? And one of the favorite quotes I remember, Mr. Secretary, was "There is nothing like a hanging to focus one's attention." (Laughter.) Well, let me tell you, your attention has been focused, our attention has been focused. And we've been able to pull back from that dark abyss.

My deceased wife used to have an expression. She'd say, "The greatest gift God gave mankind, Joey, is the ability to forget." And my mother would quickly add, "Yes, if it weren't for that, all women would only have one child." (Laughter.) But all kidding aside, it's amazing -- amazing what we've forgotten already in 10 months just how dire and bleak things looked 10 months ago.

And so the Recovery Act has put us on the path to recovery, it pulled us back from the brink. Before the President and I dropped our right hand on January the 20th of this year, already that month 700,000 people had lost their jobs; 740,000 by the end of that month lost their job; another 640,000 in the short month of February. So the fact of the matter is the last job report was not good, but a lot better -- 190,000 jobs lost. Our economy was shrinking when we took office at a rate of 6 percent, actually above 6 percent. And now it's growing at a rate at about 3 percent the last quarter. And leading economists attribute a large portion of that GDP growth in the last quarter to the Recovery Act.

And according to the most CBO report -- and if you've noticed, the one thing those of you who aren't -- do not work here every day notice the only thing Democrats and Republicans agree on is the objectivity of CBO. We all quote their numbers, and we quote them even when they don't agree with what we wanted to do, because they are bipartisan; they are responsible. And the CBO report, the most recent report of several days ago, said the act is responsible for creating as many as 1.6 million jobs. A couple of my friends on the Hill wrote me a note saying, "Joe, stop quoting that the act created over 600,000 jobs." I wrote back and said, "I promise I'll do that if you start saying it created 1.6 million jobs." But the point is it has created jobs.

So there's been progress. But you know it's not enough. That laid-off teacher -- that laid off teacher, they don't want to hear about the GDP. That out of work autoworker or that Teamster, they don't want to hear about a CBO report. There used to be an expression, and I'm not joking, my grandfather always used it. He was from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He said, "When the guy from Throop is out of work, it's an economic slowdown. When your brother-in-law is out of work, it's a recession. When you're out of work, it's a depression." And it is a depression for over 10 million Americans, which is why I'm pleased that the next phase of this Recovery Act -- we are only about halfway through it -- we're entering even at a more rapid rate, we're distributing these dollars even quicker, projects are getting in the ground faster, and we're spending -- and a particular focus on those aspects that have proven successful in creating jobs, putting real paychecks in the pockets of hardworking Americans.

And by design, the items in the act which have the biggest impact are yet to come. Within the next two weeks to a month, another roughly $13 billion is going to be announced rolling out in terms of both investments in broadband and high-speed rail, and competitive education and infrastructure. In fact, the money spent on clean water, renewable energy, superfund sites, and much more, is going to more than double -- it's going to more than double in this quarter and will maintain a similar pace for the next two quarters.

So tomorrow, for example, Secretary LaHood -- who is here -- is going to be making an important announcement about the number of high-speed rail manufacturers who are looking to come to the United States, build facilities here, manufacture components here, manufacture train sets here based on our willingness to provide the seed money to invest in high-speed rail. And many more announcements like that are coming in the months ahead. But we're not just looking to bold new programs. Many of the upcoming investments are expansions of our most successful programs to date. And that's where you all come in.

At today's job summit, we're all hearing -- we'll be hearing about ideas -- ideas that can do even more than we've done so far. Some of you will urge us to invest more in infrastructure -- roads, bridges, water projects. We've seen this investment succeed in creating jobs in the Recovery Act. And today, we'll hear the case for doing more along those lines.

Others of you today are going to argue that we should invest in green jobs, retrofitting, weatherizing, making homes and offices more energy efficient. Again, we've seen that these investments can be successful in creating jobs. And today we'll hear the case for doing more along those lines, I suspect as well.

And still others of you will talk about the need for more incentives for small businesses and our other ideas to help business through tax incentives. And again, similar investments in the Recovery Act are showing some real promise. So we should see if there's more we can do in those areas.

Many different participants are going to -- are here, and many different offerings are going to be put forward, many different ideas. But in the end, the grist is the same: take the things that we know work, and make them work better and make them work faster. And all of this can't be done -- I should put it another way: None of it can be done without your full buy-in and your leadership in the private sector.

President Obama has focused on this issue with an intensity that it demands, and with an intensity it deserves. With everything else he has on his plate -- and I've been here for eight Presidents -- I think I can say without fear of contradiction, no President has ever entered office with as many crises sitting on his desk the day he walked into office. And I've been here for eight Presidents as a United States senator.

But notwithstanding that, his laser focus has been -- and the economic team can tell you, every morning we have the meeting relating to the principles on the economy, the principals in the economic team coming in, it's what we call the Presidential Daily Briefing, is jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs.

And so, folks, we not only want to create jobs, but good jobs, jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that will service a foundation for a new economic future in this country. And no man is more committed to making that happen than President Barack Obama.

So, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much. Please, have a seat. Good afternoon, everybody. I'm glad you all could join us today for this job forum here at the White House. We've got leaders from just about every sector of the economy -- government, labor, academia, non-profits, and businesses of all sizes. And I know that your unions or universities or cities or companies don't run themselves, so I appreciate that you've taken the time to be here today. And I appreciate the unique perspective each of you brings to the great economic challenge before us: the continuing plight of millions of Americans who are still out of work.

Sometimes in this town, we talk about these things in clinical and academic ways. But this is not an academic debate. With one in 10 Americans out of work, and millions more underemployed, not having enough hours to support themselves, this is a struggle that cuts deep, and it touches people across this nation. Every day I meet people or I hear from people who talk about sending out resume after resume, and they've been on the job hunt for a year or year and a half and still can't find anything and are desperate. They haven't just lost the paycheck they need to live; they're losing the sense of dignity and identity that comes from having a job. I hear from business owners who face the heartbreak of having to lay off longtime employees, or shutting their doors altogether -- in some cases businesses that they've taken years to build; in some cases businesses that they inherited from their parents or their grandparents. And I see communities devastated by lost jobs and devastated by the fear that those jobs are never coming back.

Now, as Joe mentioned, it's true that we've seen a significant turnaround in the economy overall since the beginning of the year. Our economy was in a freefall; our financial system was on the verge of collapse; we were losing 700,000 jobs per month. And it was clear then that our first order of business was to keep a recession from slipping into a depression; from preventing financial meltdown and getting the economy growing again -- because we knew that without economic growth, there would be little to nothing we could do to stem job losses. And we knew that trying to create jobs in an economy based on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards and overleveraged banks was akin to building a house on sand.

So we implemented plans to stabilize the financial system and revive lending to families and businesses. We passed the Recovery Act, which stopped our freefall and help spur the growth that we've seen. Today, our economy is growing again for the first time in a year and at the fastest pace that we've seen in two years. And productivity is surging. Companies are reporting profits. The stock market is up.

But despite the progress we've made, many businesses are still skittish about hiring. Some are still digging themselves out of the losses they incurred over the past year. Many have figured out how to squeeze more productivity out of fewer workers, and that cost-cutting has become embedded in their operations and in their culture. That may result in good profits, but it's not translating into hiring. And so that's the question that we have to ask ourselves today: How do we get businesses to start hiring again? How do we get ourselves to the point where more people are working, and more people are spending, and you start seeing a virtuous cycle and the recovery starts to feed on itself?

We knew from the outset of this recession, particularly a recession of this severity and a recession that is spurred on by financial crisis rather than as a consequence of the business cycle, that it would take time for job growth to catch up with economic growth. We all understood that. That's always been the case with recessions. But we cannot hang back and hope for the best when we've seen the kinds of job losses that we've seen over the last year. I am not interested in taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to creating jobs.

What I'm interested in is taking action right now to help businesses create jobs right now, in the near term. That's why we made more credit available to small banks that provide loans to small businesses. That's why we provided tax relief to help small businesses stay afloat and proposed raising SBA loan limits to help them expand. That's why we created the Cash for Clunkers program, and made sure the Recovery Act included investments that would start saving and creating jobs this year -- as Joe mentioned, as many as 1.6 [million] so far is estimated, according to the most recent analysis. And that's why I've been working continuously with my economic advisors, as well as congressional leaders and others, on new job creation ideas. And I'll be speaking in greater detail about several ideas that have already surfaced early next week.

But I want to be clear -- while I believe that government has a critical role in creating the conditions for economic growth, ultimately true economic recovery is only going to come from the private sector. We don't have enough public dollars to fill the hole of private dollars that was created as a consequence of the crisis. It is only when the private sector starts to reinvest again, only when our businesses start hiring again and people start spending again and families start seeing improvement in their own lives again that we're going to have the kind of economy that we want. That's the measure of a real economic recovery.

So that's why I've invited all of you here today. Many of you run businesses yourselves. Each of you is an expert on some aspect of job creation. Collectively, your views span the spectrum. That was deliberate. We've looking for fresh perspectives and new ideas.

I want to hear about what unions and universities can do to better support and prepare our workers -- not just for the jobs of today, but for the jobs five years from now and 10 years from now and 50 years from now. I want to hear about what mayors and community leaders can do to bring new investment to our cities and towns and help recovery dollars get to where they need to go as quickly as possible. I want to hear from CEOs about what's holding back our business investment and how we can increase confidence and spur hiring. And if there are things that we're doing here in Washington that are inhibiting you, then we want to know about it.

And I want to continue this conversation outside of Washington, which is why I'll be meeting with some of the small business owners that you saw in the video in Allentown, Pennsylvania, tomorrow, to get their ideas. It's also why we've asked state and local officials and community organizations to hold their own jobs forums over the next week or so and to report back with the ideas and recommendations that result.

Now, let me be clear. I am open to every demonstrably good idea, and I want to take every responsible step to accelerate job creation. We also, though, have to face the fact that our resources are limited. When we walked in, there was an enormous fiscal gap between the money that is going out and the money coming in. The recession has made that worse because of fewer tax receipts and more demands made on government for things like unemployment insurance.

So we can't make any ill-considered decisions right now, even with the best of intentions. We're going to have to be surgical and we're going to have to be creative. We're going to have to be smart and strategic. We'll need to look beyond the old standbys and fallbacks and come up with the best ideas that give us the biggest bang for the buck.

So I need everybody here to bring their A-game here today. I'm going to be asking some tough questions. I will be listening for some good answers. And I don't want to just brainstorm up at 30,000 feet. I want details in our discussion today. I'm looking for specific recommendations that can be implemented that will spur on job growth as quickly as possible.

I want to be clear: We won't overcome our unemployment challenge in just a few hours this afternoon. I assure you there is extraordinary skepticism that any discussions like this can actually produce results. I'm well aware of that. I don't mind skepticism. If I listened to the skeptics, I wouldn't be here. (Laughter.)

But I am confident that we'll make progress. I'm confident that people like you, who've built thriving businesses or revolutionized industries or brought cities and communities together and changed the way we look at the world and innovated and created new products, that you can come up with some additional good ideas on how to create jobs. And I'm confident that the spirit of "bold, persistent experimentation" that FDR talked about and that's gotten this country through some of our darkest hours remains alive and well -- not just in this room, but all across the country.

We still have the best universities in the world. We've got some of the finest science and technology in the world, we've got the most entrepreneurial spirit in the world, and we've got some of the most productive workers in the world. And if we get serious, then the 21st century is going to be the American century, just like the 20th century was. But we're going to have to approach this with a sense of seriousness and try to set the politics and the chatter aside for a while and actually get to work.

So, welcome. Thank you for participating. We are going to maximize the productivity of this effort over the next several hours. And I will be returning back with you so that I can get a report on what kinds of ideas seem to make the most sense. Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)