By Darlene Superville
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Calling the latest job losses astounding, President Barack Obama said Friday he will not accept a future marked by a recurring cycle of Americans forced out of work due to economic woes.
Obama spoke at the graduation ceremony for 25 police recruits who owe their jobs to the $787 billion economic recovery bill he signed into law less than three weeks ago.
In a 12-minute speech, the president noted that 651,000 U.S. jobs were lost last month, bringing to "an astounding 4.4 million" the number lost in the current recession. The Columbus police recruits were about to join those ranks, he said, "a future that millions of Americans still face right now."
"Well, that is not a future I accept for the United States of America," Obama said. That's why he signed the stimulus bill that Congress passed last month with minuscule help from Republicans, he said.
Obama noted the many critics of the package, but he said government leaders have a responsibility to act for future generations. The United States has met every challenge with bold action and big ideas, he said, and "that's what fueled a shared and lasting prosperity."
Meanwhile Friday, the Labor Department said it was making more than $3.5 billion available to states for education, training and re-employment services.
The Columbus police recruits are part of a class of 27 who were laid off in January by Mayor Michael Coleman, a Democrat, before they could even start walking the beat. Coleman blamed city budget problems at the time.
But Coleman announced last week that the Justice Department had informed the city that it would get $1.25 million in stimulus money to pay the officers' salaries through the end of the year. Two of the recruits chose not to return.
When he signed the bill on Feb. 17, Obama cited saving the Ohio police recruit class as one use for stimulus money.
Obama has been highlighting programs to be funded by the legislation, along with the jobs he says are being saved or created by those dollars. He has practically staked his presidency on his promise that the stimulus package will save or create 3.5 million jobs within the next two years.
The latest economic news was a fresh reminder for the Obama administration of the nation's grim financial outlook.
The government said Friday the nation's unemployment rate jumped to 8.1 percent in February, the highest since late 1983. Over a three-month period, nearly 2 million jobs have been cut.
At the Transportation Department this week, Obama talked about the $28 billion in stimulus funds being invested in road-building projects, and the 150,000 jobs he says that money will save or create.
Obama's chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said the president believes trips like the one to Columbus help demonstrate what the government is doing to try to turn around the economy. Friday's trip also gives Obama a chance to inject some good news into a day dominated by the bleak unemployment report
"The city is understanding that the money that they'll see from the legislation will allow them to save those jobs, put those cops back on the street, and I think that's a good news story in a day in which there will be some very tough economic figures," Gibbs said Thursday.
Vice President Joe Biden was in Miami to talk about how stimulus money will benefit state and local law enforcement.
Columbus rehired the officers using money from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. The stimulus bill set aside $2 billion for that program, which is being delivered to local departments by a predetermined formula.
But while stimulus money saved those jobs, it is only a temporary fix. The money will run out at year's end, and the mayor has not said how he'll pay the officers' salaries after that.
"If anyone thinks this solves our long-term budget challenges, they're going to be disappointed," Coleman's spokesman, Dan Williamson, said Thursday.
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The trip was Obama's first to Ohio as president. He won the state in the November election.