Five years ago this week, the U.S. economy took a punch in the gut. In September of 2008, a financial crisis unlike anything most of us had ever seen sent the economy into a tailspin.
It wasn't a financial crisis affecting a few traders in lower Manhattan. It was a crisis of middle-class economic security affecting millions nationwide. It hit Wall Street, but it also hit Main Street. Working families were on the ropes. Banks stopped lending and small businesses went under. It was a time of great anxiety and uncertainty, as people lost their jobs, their homes and their retirement savings.
Thanks to President Obama's leadership, and more importantly the unfailing resilience of the American people, we are turning a corner and emerging from this crisis. We have, as the president likes to say, cleared away the rubble and begun laying a stronger foundation for economic growth and widely-shared prosperity. For a while we were hemorrhaging jobs to the tune of 800,000 a month. Now, over the last three and a half years, the private sector has added 7.5 million new jobs. The auto industry, a powerful symbol of American manufacturing muscle that had been flat on its back, is now on the rebound.
It's been a long road back, but it's not over yet. The economy is still not performing at its potential. We need more rapid growth, more job creation, more pathways to success, more ladders of opportunity with sturdy rungs that give people a foothold in the middle class.
To do that, we need to act with the same urgency and sense of common purpose that we felt five years ago. That's why the president is calling for investments in manufacturing centers of innovation. That's why he wants to upgrade American infrastructure, because you can't have a growing economy without sturdy roads, bridges and ports. And that's why he wants to fortify our skills infrastructure too, so that our people have the tools they need to succeed in 21st century jobs.
The Labor Department has played a critical role in this economic recovery and will continue to do so. This week, we made a powerful new investment worth almost half a billion dollars in community colleges' ability to provide state-of-the-art education and training programs in all 50 states. We're focused every day on creating and expanding more opportunity for more people -- protecting their pensions and benefits, ensuring fair wages and safe workplaces, helping veterans and people with disabilities find work, and much more.
America has fought our way back. And while the worst is in the rearview mirror, the president and his team have our eyes on the road facing forward. I have no doubt that, led by the American people, we will rise to those challenges still ahead and emerge even stronger than ever.