UPDATE 2-Obama says some auto jobs gone, defends economic plan

Tue Jul 14, 2009 5:11pm EDT

Related Topics

* Obama says it is his job to get economy moving

* Says critics "carp and gripe"

* Jobless rate likely to "tick up" for several months (Updates with speech, changes dateline from WASHINGTON)

By David Alexander

WARREN, Michigan, July 14 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama defended his handling of the U.S. economy on Tuesday in a visit to hard-hit Michigan and said the emergence from bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler is proof his plans are working.

But Obama also carried a dose of reality to Michigan, saying thousands of jobs lost to the auto industry's downturn are not coming back and it is time to prepare for new industries.

He touted a $12 billion initiative to encourage more Americans to seek education for new jobs.

Obama, a Democrat who often says he inherited a recession from Republican predecessor George W. Bush, fired back at Republican critics who say his $787 billion economic stimulus plan has failed to stem the rising jobless rate.

Obama said it is his responsibility to "get this economy back on its feet."

"That's my job. And it's a job that I gladly accept. I love these folks who helped get us into this mess and then suddenly say, 'Well this is Obama's economy.'"

"That's fine," Obama said. "Give it to me. My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe," he said.

Talking to reporters before leaving for Michigan, Obama said the United States is trying to rebound from the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression, and that the jobless rate probably will get worse before it gets better.

"My expectation is, is that we will probably continue to see unemployment tick up for several months," he said.

Critics have complained loudly about the government's bailout of GM and Chrysler, but the situation in Michigan would be far worse if the government had not acted, he said.

"It was the right thing to do," he said in Warren.

SOME AUTO JOBS WON'T COME BACK

The continued lag in the economy is starting to make a dent in Obama's strong job approval ratings. A new CBS News poll said Obama's approval rating was 57 percent, still robust but down six points from last month.

The poll said his approval rating on handling the economy is now 48 percent, while 44 percent disapprove. Last month, Americans had approved of his handling of this issue by a margin of 22 points, CBS said.

As he visited a state hit hard by job losses as Detroit's Big Three automakers have reeled from the U.S. recession, Obama promoted a $12 billion initiative to boost community colleges and increase the graduation rate.

"The hard truth is that some of the jobs that have been lost in the auto industry and elsewhere won't be coming back," Obama said.

"They are the casualties of a changing economy...And that only underscores the importance of generating new businesses and new industries to replace the ones that we've lost, and of preparing our workers to fill the jobs they create," he said.

Speaking outdoors in his shirt-sleeves, Obama made his case in Macomb County, an area that gave rise 30 years ago to "Reagan Democrats" who crossed party lines to elect Republican Ronald Reagan.

Obama's 10-year program to boost community colleges includes a new goal of graduating an additional 5 million students from these schools over the next decade, double the current number of expected graduates.

Education is the often-forgotten third pillar of Obama's economic plan and has received far less attention than the other two -- healthcare reform and renewable energy.

(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason; writing by David Alexander and Steve Holland; Editing by Bill Trott and Vicki Allen)

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