President Barack Obama on Monday promised he will not rest until every American can get a secure job, after the 2012 Republican pacesetter branded him indifferent to the unemployed.
Obama traveled to North Carolina and Florida -- swing states pummeled by the recession, which will help decide his fate next year -- on a day when Republicans were set to upbraid him over jobs in their first big campaign debate. Facing intense pressure over the economy, the president made the politically tough case that he has staved off a repeat of the Great Depression, but acknowledged that growth and job creation has come too slowly to many. "I am still not satisfied. I will not be satisfied till everyone who wants a good job that offers some security has a good job that offers security," Obama said. "I won't be satisfied until working families feel like they are moving forward, that they are progressing again," Obama said at a North Carolina factory that produces energy-efficient LED lighting products. "We are going to get there," Obama said, seeking to strike a delicate balance between acknowledging economic struggles of many Americans, but inspiring hope that better days are ahead. "I am optimistic about our future," Obama said, though he added: "We should not be complacent. We shouldn't pretend that a lot of folks out there are not still struggling." Obama met with his Jobs and Competitiveness Council, a group of CEOs and academic experts, which unveiled a plan for a public-private partnership to train 10,000 new U.S. engineers a year. 'The Sky Is Not Falling' The White House is on the defensive after official data showed the unemployment rate rose to 9.1% last month, and amid other signs the recovery is slowing after the deepest recession in decades. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney unleashed the most stinging assault yet of the nascent campaign, accusing Obama of being indifferent to the plight of Americans stuck in the jobless trap. Ahead of Monday's New Hampshire debate, a Romney campaign ad slammed a previous remark by the president that recent disappointing jobs data represented a "bump in the road" to a full economic recovery. The spot shows people lying in a road, then standing up in turn to declare "I'm an American, not a bump in the road" and holding up a placard with their name followed by "stands with Mitt." White House spokesman Jay Carney shrugged off the attack, saying that Obama had used a common phrase and adding that the economy is "heading in the right direction" though the path may not be smooth. The jobs council is headed by GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt, and includes luminaries like AOL founder Steve Case and Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines. Amid deepening fears that the recovery may be running out of steam, Obama, who has sought to mend his tense ties with big business, asked the group to work on further spreading their message that "the sky is not falling." "You guys can amplify that probably even more effectively that I can ... I'm an elected official, I'm a president ... so sometimes it may get discounted." An Example of Innovation The host company for Monday's council meeting -- Cree Inc. -- has hired 750 people, including more than 180 scientists and engineers in the last year, and has built a new production line -- an example of innovation the White House wants to promote. Josephine Lynch, a 43-year-old mother of four, said she has been working at Cree for two months, after being jobless for two and a half years in a state where the unemployment rate was 9.7% in April. Recent polls show Obama faces a deep political challenge over the economy. In a Washington Post poll last week, respondents said by a two-to-one margin that America is on the wrong track, while 57% do not believe the recovery has even begun, despite seven straight quarters of economic growth. Later, Obama was due to head to another critical state -- Florida -- which, like North Carolina, he won in the 2008 election but where a jobs and foreclosures crisis threatens his 2012 prospects. On Tuesday, Obama heads to Puerto Rico, where islanders are American citizens who do not vote in general elections but have close links to the Puerto Rican diaspora, a fast-growing political demographic in Florida. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011