WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, under pressure to spur job growth, said on Monday he had chosen Princeton labor economist Alan Krueger to become the top White House economist and that he will offer a jobs plan next week.
The selection signaled a fresh attempt by Obama to make good on his promise to focus on the U.S. economy and jobs with Americans deeply dissatisfied with his handling of those issues.
Krueger, an expert on unemployment who has argued that raising the minimum wage could help employment rates, would succeed Austan Goolsbee as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
With Krueger at his side in the White House Rose Garden, Obama said he would rely on the economist for “unvarnished recommendations” on how to bring down the 9.1 percent jobless rate and restore growth to the struggling U.S. economy.
Obama described creating jobs as an urgent challenge and said he will outline a plan next week to put more money in Americans’ pockets and get construction crews working.
“Next week I will be laying out a series of steps that Congress can take immediately to put more money in the pockets of working families and middle class families, to make it easier for small businesses to hire people, to put construction crews to work rebuilding our nation’s roads and railways and airports,” he said.
Obama is expected to propose an extension of a payroll tax cut and seek money for infrastructure improvements such as repairing bridges and roads as a way to get Americans working.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president was still working on the plan and a day for its release had not yet been decided.
Republicans in Congress have taken a dim view of new stimulus spending, which means Obama could have trouble gaining bipartisan support for his plan.
“My hope and expectation is that we can put country before party and get something done for the American people,” Obama said.
Obama’s public approval ratings have fallen to around 43 percent, close to the lows of his presidency, amid anxiety over unemployment and lackluster economic growth, as he prepares to ask Americans for a second term in 2012.
Krueger’s expertise in labor-market issues is in keeping with the administration’s efforts to underscore a focus on jobs, but he has also done work on the economics of education, inequality and what breeds terrorism.
Goolsbee, one of Obama’s longest-serving advisers, left the administration earlier this month to return to his teaching job at the University of Chicago. The departure was a blow for the White House because Goolsbee had been a high-profile spokesman on the economy.
“Alan understands the difficult challenges our country faces, and I have confidence that he will help us meet those challenges as one of the leaders on my economic team,” Obama said.
Krueger served in the Obama administration as a Treasury Department economist but left that job to return to Princeton last fall.
The nomination requires Senate confirmation but Krueger has an advantage because he has gone through the confirmation process before for his Treasury job. Carney said the White House was optimistic he would get a speedy confirmation.
At Treasury, Krueger was assistant secretary for economic policy and chief economist. He is also a veteran of President Bill Clinton’s administration, serving as chief economist for the Department of Labor from August 1994 to August 1995.
Krueger holds a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University. He earned his PhD in economics at Harvard University.
While at Princeton, Krueger was a regular contributor to the Economic Scene column in The New York Times.
Krueger has written extensively on unemployment and the effects of education on the labor market.
If confirmed as CEA chairman, Krueger would be the third person to hold that post under Obama. Obama’s first CEA chairman, Christina Romer, left the post a year ago to return to the University of California, Berkeley.
Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Emily Kaiser in Singapore; editing by Eric Beech, Jackie Frank and Mohammad Zargham