Obama Says Jobs Numbers are “Encouraging” yet “Sobering”

By Kate Barrett

May 8, 2009 1:58pm

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller reports: President Obama called the April jobs numbers showing the nation lost another 539,000 jobs last month "encouraging" yet still a "sobering" economic toll.

"While it’s somewhat encouraging that this number is lower than it’s been in each of the past six months, it is a sobering toll," the president said. "It underscores the point that we’re still in the midst of a recession that was years in the making and will be months or even years in the unmaking; and we should expect further job losses in the months to come."

Citing consumer spending, home sales, and construction spending numbers that are showing progress, Obama said that while the nation has a long way to go before the recession is over, "the gears of our economic engine are slowing beginning to turn."

The president’s event today focused on a new call by the administration to help unemployed workers gain new skills and education while they are looking for a new job.

"Now is the time to change unemployment from a period of ‘wait and see’ to a chance for our workers to train and to seek the next opportunity – so when that new and better day does come around, our people, our industry, and our entire country are ready to make the most of it."

Obama said that this starts by changing "the senseless rules" that discourage displaced workers from getting education and training, and announced new steps to give people the chance to use the unemployment system "not as a safety net, but a stepping stone."

Under the administration’s plan an unemployed person would no longer lose their temporary financial support under unemployment, if they enroll in a training program, or higher education. Additionally, they would be able to qualify now for federal money to attend higher education programs.

"We’ll open new doors to higher education and job training programs to recently laid-off workers who are receiving unemployment benefits. And if those displaced workers need help paying for their education, they should get it – that’s why the next step is to make it easier for them to receive Pell Grants."

The president has ordered Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to work with states and institutions of higher education and encourage them not only to allow these changes, but inform all workers receiving unemployment benefits of the training programs and financial support open to them.  He also announced the launch of a new Web site — Opportunity.gov — to help workers take advantage of these opportunities. The president has tasked Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor, to lead the national effort to raise awareness about what the administration is doing to open up these new opportunities.

In the weeks ahead the president said he will lay out a fundamental rethinking of job training, vocational education, and community college programs.

"So this is a good start. But it is only a start. These steps are just a short-term down payment on our larger goal of ensuring that all Americans get the skills and education they need to succeed in today’s economy."

-Sunlen Miller

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