WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged businesses to “step up” and hire workers, pressing banks and other corporations to do more to help an economy that he said would take “several years” to recover fully.
In a town-hall style meeting conducted by CBS News on Wednesday, Obama said the weak housing market and high gasoline prices were the biggest “headwinds” dragging on the economy.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do to get businesses to invest and to hire,” he told the audience in remarks broadcast on Thursday.
“It’s going to take us several years for us to get back where we need to be.”
The strength of the U.S. economy is likely to be the main factor that determines whether Obama will succeed in holding on to the White House next year.
He said businesses and banks that reaped the rewards of extraordinary measures to pull the country out of a deep recession had a responsibility now to invest hordes of cash into U.S. jobs.
“It is time for companies to step up,” Obama said. “American taxpayers contributed to that process of stabilizing the economy. Companies have benefited from that, and they’re making a lot of money, and now’s the time for them to start betting on American workers and American products.”
U.S. companies created jobs at the fastest pace in five years in April, according to the Labor Department, pointing to underlying strength in the economy even as the jobless rate hit 9.0 percent.
Obama said his administration was looking at ways to extend programs to help people struggling with mortgage payments on houses that had lost much of their value.
“We’re going to continue to work with Congress to see if we can propose more legislation to encourage longer loan modifications,” he said. “We are trying to expand the loan modification program to reach more people.”
Obama said the White House studied oil price movements every day and some increase in fuel prices was inevitable because the economy had improved, boosting demand for energy.
“When the economy started growing again, worldwide demand for oil went back up,” he said, noting that disruptions in the Middle East, especially Libya, had affected oil prices.
But he said his administration hoped to see gasoline prices down significantly by the summer and was working to crack down on speculation and price gouging.
“As oil prices on the world markets go down, we want to make sure that’s reflected in the pump,” he said.
Obama pressed his case that his administration’s work to improve the economy had paid dividends, saying the manufacturing sector was especially strong in part because of his decision to rescue the auto industry.
In response to concerns from small businesses about needless regulation, Obama indicated his administration would announce changes in the coming weeks in regulations to ease the burden of excessive paperwork.