President Barack Obama is trying to strike a careful balance between highlighting economic progress and underscoring continued challenges as he seeks to reverse the recession he inherited but now owns.
The president was slated to give an economic speech Tuesday at Georgetown University as his administration nears its symbolic 100-day mark. Aides billed the address as major but acknowledged that it was expected to contain no significant policy announcements.
Rather, they said, the speech would outline the state of the economy when Obama took office in January, steps his administration has taken in its first three months, and what still needs to be done to right troubled sectors, including the housing, banking and financial industries.
"The president wants the opportunity to update the American people on where we are, what we have to do going forward, and lay out the steps that are being taken to help our economy recover," said presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs.
While Obama will enthusiastically recognize progress, Gibbs said, "I think the president also understands that even as there are some promising statistics, whether it’s housing or something like that, we still are likely to see many, many months of unemployment, where hundreds of thousands of people are losing their jobs."
Unemployment hit a 25-year high of 8.5 percent in March, and many people are still losing their homes or jobs, or fear losing them. Still, there’s been a drop in unemployment benefit filings and predictions of solid April sales from several retailers. Stock investors, shoppers and home buyers also seem less jittery, while once-frozen credit markets are slowly thawing and deeply worrisome economic indicators appear to be stabilizing.
As the backsliding economy appears to be leveling off, the president and his White House have tried to recognize progress with optimistic language while also emphasizing tough tasks ahead in realistic tones.
Late last week, Obama said "we’re starting to see glimmers of hope across the economy," but cautioned that it remains severely stressed and will require lots more work to turn it around.
Advisers are mindful that Obama must show the public that his policies are actually working — and establish credibility — in order for him to guarantee the public’s support for his future agenda.
He put his fledgling presidency on the line when he advocated sweeping new government intervention and spending to right the troubled economic conditions. Shortly after taking office he signed a $787 billion package intended to boost the economy.
With that money trickling down to state and local communities, the president frequently promotes areas of good economic news to ensure that the public continues to support his policies and that he eventually gets credit for any turnaround.
With Tuesday’s speech to students and faculty as well as labor, grassroots and political leaders, Obama essentially is trying to refocus the country on his economic agenda and domestic issues after two weeks that, both by design and circumstance, have been dominated by foreign affairs.
Obama spent eight days on his first overseas trip, talking global economics and national security. He returned to Washington last week just as Somali pirates took an American cargo ship captain hostage after failing to hijack his vessel off the Horn of Africa.
Amid that international crisis, Obama held a couple of little-noticed economic events.
At one, he urged families to take advantage of near-record low mortgage rates by refinancing their home loans. On Friday, he met with his economic team. On Monday, he traveled to the Transportation Department, where he said the economic stimulus plan is beginning to take hold and that work is coming in "ahead of schedule and under budget."