WARREN, MICHIGAN — Calling the recession a “transformative moment” President Obama today came to the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country and warned that many more jobs will be lost in the coming months. The president argued that his administration is trying to re-build an economy better prepared for the 21st century, introducing a $12 billion investment in two-year colleges to better prepare for a world where associates’ degrees will be in greater demand, and calling it a historic step for community colleges not seen since the passage of the original GI Bill and the work of President Truman's Commission on Higher Education.
“What we face is far more than a passing crisis,” the president told residents of Michigan, where the jobless rate is approaching 15%. “It's not the time to shrink from the challenges we face and put off tough decisions. That's what Washington has done for decades. And it's exactly what I ran for president, to change that mindset.”
President Obama told the thousands gathered at Macomb Community College that he understands how they’ve been especially hard hit by this crisis.
“The statistics are daunting,” the president said. “In the whole country now, the unemployment rate is approaching 10 percent. And here in Michigan, it's about 5 points higher. And, you know, new jobs reports are going to be coming out, and we're going to see continuing job loss, even as the economy is beginning to stabilize. Now, that's not just abstractions. Those just aren't numbers on a page…Those are extraordinary hardships, tough times, for families and individuals who've worked hard all their lives and have done the right things all their lives.”
Obama said that his administration has a job to do – to get the economy back on track, and challenged those who complain about the economic mess without helping.
“I love these folks who helped get us in this mess and then suddenly say, ‘Well, this is Obama's economy,’” the president ad-libbed. “That's fine. Give it to me. My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe. So I welcome the job. I want the responsibility.”
In his first visit to Michigan since the campaign, the President used a car-friendly example of his problem solving for the local crowd, saying that his unpopular move to help bailout GM and Chrysler from collapse earlier this year was at first questioned – a move he defended today as the “right thing to do.”
“Today, after a painful period of soul-searching and sacrifice, both GM and Chrysler have emerged from bankruptcy,” Mr. Obama said. “Remember: folks said there was no way they could do it. They've gotten it done already, in record time, far faster than anybody thought possible.”
Arguing that jobs requiring at least an associates’ degree will grow twice as fast as those for high school graduates in the coming years, the president outlined a new program for post-high school education called the American Gradation Initiative to train workers for new jobs. The Initiative will reform and fund community colleges through offering competitive grants, investing $10 billion in loans to renovate and rebuild colleges, and building a virtual infrastructure by offering more on-line classes.
“By 2020, this nation will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world,” he pledged. “We used to have that. We're going to have it again”
The President promised that the plan will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for, he says, though money saved by ending wasteful subsidies provided to banks and lenders from student loans.
As he said in the past, the economic foundation cannot be repaired without the reform of the health care system and he warned that the debate currently being battled out on Capitol Hill cannot be won by those resistant to his efforts.
“There's going to be a major debate over the next three weeks,” Obama said referencing the August recess deadline, “And don't be fooled by folks trying to scare you, saying we can't change the health care system. We have no choice but to change the health care system, because, right now, it's broken for too many Americans.”
The president, who earlier in the day said his “expectation is, is that we will probably continue to see unemployment tick up for several months,” concluded by saying that “the road to recovery, the road to prosperity, is going to be hard…And it's going to take time. There are going to be false starts and there are going to be setbacks. But I am confident that we can meet the challenges we face, because that's what we've always done. That's what America does. We hit some challenges, we fuss and argue about it, and then we go ahead and go about the business of solving our problems.”
-Jake Tapper at the White House and Sunlen Miller in Michigan with the President