President Obama warned America today during an online town hall meeting that the country hasn't stopped losing jobs in this recession.
The president picked a dozen questions from more than 100,000 that were submitted online or by YouTube during the last week as Obama made himself"Open for Questions" from regular Americans.
The overriding issue of the inquiries was about the country's economy and the president warned that despite signs of fiscal improvement, people could expect even more jobs to be eliminated before the unemployment rate stops rising.
"We're going to have to be patient and persistent about job creation because I don't think that we've lost all the jobs we're going to lose in this recession," Obama said.
"We're still going to be in a difficult time for much of this year. Employment is typically what's called a lagging indicator," he said.
Job losses continued to bedevil the economy. New claims for unemployment benefits last week rose to a seasonally adjusted 652,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 644,000, the Labor Department said today. The total number of people claiming benefits jumped to 5.56 million, a ninth straight record and the highest total on records dating back to 1967.
The avalanche of questions was submitted to the White House Web site www.WhiteHouse.gov during the past week, divided into categories, and voted on by more than 3 million Americans.
The entire event was live streamed on the White House Web site and officials said that nearly 70,000 people were logged on during the town hall.
Obama acknowledged that one of the most popular questions was whether to legalize marijuana. The pot question topped the categories of financial stability, "green jobs" and the budget, and was the second most popular query in the health-care category.
The questions suggested that legalizing pot would create jobs, weaken the drug cartels, and provide the government with a new revenue stream by taxing marijuana sales.
Obama had a little fun with question, but said with a smile -- and to some laughter from the invited audience -- "I don't know what this says about the online audience."
"No, I don't think this is a good strategy for growing our economy," he said, more seriously.
Obama spent considerable time touting two of the key priorities in his budget proposal: investing money in education and health care reform. As he has done in every chance he could over the last several weeks, the president defended his spending proposals as necessary for economic recovery.
Obama said he will be making an announcement on the auto industry over the next several days, but he did not reveal any specifics.
He said his general philosophy is that the U.S. auto industry must be preserved, but he also must protect American taxpayers so they do not foot the bill for the industry's significant mismanagement in recent years.
"What we're expecting is that the automakers are going to be working with us to restructure. We will provide them some help," Obama said. "If they're not willing to make the changes and the restructurings that are necessary, then I'm not willing to have taxpayer money chase after bad money. And so a lot of it's going to depend on their willingness to make some pretty drastic changes."
Obama said he hears the critics saying that his budget will add to the deficit, but he does not buy the argument.