By Ryan Sachetta
President Barack Obama told an audience at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus on Thursday that “we’ve got the best cards” when it comes to the nation’s economy, laying out what he termed the four cornerstones of his administration’s recovery.
“I will not allow anyone to dismantle this foundation,” Obama said as top Illinois Democrats Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Sen. Dick Durbin looked on from the front row of Cahn Auditorium. “Because for the first time, we can see real, tangible evidence of what the contours of the new economy will look like.”
His message of “progress to be proud of” came one day shy of the six-year anniversary of the country’s historic $700 billion financial bailout amid the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and just hours after the U.S. Department of Labor released figures showing the lowest number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits since 2006.
Obama is hoping to drive home gains in the economy, and perhaps take some credit for them, five weeks ahead of mid-term elections and as his Gallup approval rating hovers around 40 percent.
A majority of the country (54 percent) sees the economy getting worse as compared with the 40 percent who see it getting better, according to Gallup’s most recent economic poll.
“Here’s the bottom line,” Obama said. “For all the work that remains, for all the citizens we still need to reach, what I want people to know is that there are some really good things happening in America.
“I thought he did a very good job of laying down a very complex agenda in an intelligible and motivating manner,” said Barbara O’Keefe, dean of Northwestern University’s School of Communication.
The president hammered away at each cornerstone – investment in energy and new technology, revitalizing education, reducing the burden of rising health care premiums, and implementing sound financial reform – that he credits with returning America to a position in which it is “better poised to lead and succeed in the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.”
The message may be a difficult sell in Illinois, where the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 6.7 percent, compared with the national jobless rate of 6.1 percent, and even lower rates for neighboring states of Wisconsin (5.6 percent) and Indiana (5.8 percent).
The Chicago-Joliet-Naperville area saw the biggest one-month decline in joblessness of any of the country’s 372 metropolitan divisions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Paul LaPorte, a regional economist at BLS, said employment in August jumped by over 38,000 jobs in the Chicagoland area compared with a year ago, including employment increases in construction; trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; and leisure and hospitality.
“Sometimes there is seasonal play in these numbers,” LaPorte said. “But anything in the positive is obviously a good sign for the economy with people working, earning a paycheck and, hopefully, putting it back into economy so we can keep on trucking.”
Bill Bergman, director of research at the Chicago-based Truth in Accounting, tracks the fiscal health of state and local governments. “The overall impression I have looking at the data is that, in fact, Illinois is muted relative to the rest of the country,” he said.
The Illinois Taxpayer Burden is the second worst in the country at $43,000, according to the non-profit Truth in Accounting. In other words, each taxpayer would need to pay $43,000 to erase the debt.