Jobless report shows urgent need for stimulus: Obama

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The latest unemployment report offered a “stark reminder” of the need to move quickly to pass a bold U.S. economic stimulus package, President-elect Barack Obama said on Friday.

He also said he was making good progress in talks with Congress on the stimulus package, whose price tag is expected to total $800 billion or more.

“Clearly the situation is dire. It is deteriorating and it demands urgent and immediate action,” Obama told a news conference called to discuss his selections for top intelligence jobs. “This morning, we received a stark reminder about how urgently action is needed.”

Obama spoke after the Labor Department said the U.S. jobless rate jumped to 7.2 percent in December, the highest level since January 1993, from 6.8 percent in November.

The surge came amid another month of deep job losses as employers slashed their payrolls by 524,000 in December.

For the year as a whole, the economy shed 2.6 million jobs, the largest decline since a 2.75 million drop in 1945.

As Obama spoke, his top aides were meeting behind closed doors with lawmakers to discuss the proposal for tax cuts and public-works spending that the president-elect says would help jump start growth.

“Our expectation is that we will continue to hone and refine our package over the next several weeks,” he said.

“But the one thing that I tried to lay out yesterday and I will continue to insist on, is we cannot delay,” said Obama, who gave a speech on Thursday urging passage of the plan.

Obama hopes for passage of the package by mid-February but over the past few days, he has faced concerns by some Democrats about the structure of the tax cuts and wariness among Republicans and moderate Democrats about the impact of the package on an already soaring U.S. budget deficit.

Reporting by Caren Bohan and Deborah Charles, editing by Chris Wilson