(New throughout with Obama comments, background)
By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON, Nov 12 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday he would host a December conference to brainstorm how to beat back double-digit unemployment, and repeated a pledge to fight for U.S. exports as he toured Asia next week.
“We have an obligation to consider every additional responsible step that we can to encourage and accelerate job creation in this country,” Obama told reporters before departing for Japan, the first stop on his trip. [ID:nN12402500]
With unemployment at 10.2 percent in October, a 26-1/2 year high, Obama faces pressure to take action. However, an administration official said the president was not weighing a second stimulus package, on top of a $787 billion emergency government spending bill signed earlier this year.
“It’s important that we don’t make any ill-considered decisions — even with the best intentions — particularly at a time when our resources are so limited,” Obama said.
The December jobs forum will gather chief executives, small business owners, academics, economists, and representatives from the labor and nonprofit world to discuss how to spur economic growth and create jobs, Obama said.
A senior White House aide said after the president’s remarks that the gathering would not be a discussion about a second stimulus package, but rather a continuation of other efforts to get the economy moving.
Hosting the event may reflect a desire to be seen doing something to perk up the economy — a critical issue for voters before the 2010 congressional election — at a time when, as Obama said, millions of Americans are “desperately searching for jobs.”
Former President Bill Clinton held a similar event in Little Rock, Arkansas, weeks after he was elected president in 1992, to demonstrate his focus on the economy.
The U.S. economy began growing again in the third quarter but unemployment has continued to climb amid the worst recession since the Great Depression.
The White House has warned that it could get a little worse before it starts getting better, because hiring tends to lag a pick-up in economic activity.
However, weekly jobless claims released earlier on Thursday showed applications for benefits falling to a lower than expected 502,000 in the week ended Nov. 7, from 514,000 the previous week. [ID:nN12408580]
In addition, the closely watched four week moving average edged down to 519,750. This was the lowest reading since November 2008. Obama called this a hopeful sign.
Obama last week said his administration was examining a number of options to spur the economy and tackle unemployment, including spending on roads and bridges, tax cuts for businesses, refitting of buildings to make them more energy efficient, and aggressive measures to boost exports.
The president reiterated this point on Thursday as he was about to depart for a tour that includes stops in crucial trading partners Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea.
“In the coming days, I’ll also be meeting with leaders abroad to discuss a strategy for growth that is both balanced and broadly shared.
“It’s a strategy in which Asian and Pacific markets are open to our exports — and one in which prosperity around the world is no longer as dependent on American consumption and borrowing, but rather more on American innovation and products,” he said.
Additional reporting by Ross Colvin and Steve Holland, editing by Vicki Allen