Obama Renews Focus on Jobs, Economy with Texas Trip

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Evan Vucci/AP
By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama travels to Texas on Thursday to put his focus back on job creation and economic growth after giving intensive attention to gun control legislation and immigration reform.

The president is due to hold events around the country to draw attention to his efforts to boost economic growth through jobs that benefit the middle class, a White House official said.

The trip comes as a poll shows Americans say what they want most from politicians in Washington is job creation and helping the economy grow.

In a visit to the Austin, Texas, area, Obama is due to visit Applied Materials Inc. (AMAT) which makes semiconductors and other technology, and a high school focused on math and science. He will also meet local residents and entrepreneurs.
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Obama's jobs tour follows some policy frustrations for him. The president failed to persuade Congress to accept expanded background checks for gun buyers, a disappointing setback to his efforts to toughen gun rules after the December murders of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

He is also at an impasse with congressional Republicans over a deficit reduction deal that he insists should include higher tax revenues, which Republicans oppose.

The president does appear to be making headway in his efforts to change immigration laws to open a path to citizenship for a portion of the 11 million people who are in the United States without proper documentation. However, final legislation is months off.

In the meantime, a Gallup poll released Tuesday found 86 percent of those surveyed this month ranked creating more jobs as their top priority for action by Congress and the president, tied at 86 percent with helping the economy grow.

Lower on the priority list were reducing the federal deficit at 69 percent, reforming the tax code 59 percent, reducing gun violence 55 percent and reforming immigration 50 percent.

The U.S. economy is recovering slowly after the deep recession of 2007-2009. Despite some encouraging signs of economic resurgence, such as stock market record highs, the jobless rate, while falling, remains at an elevated 7.5 percent.

The president will announce a competition for locations to site three manufacturing institutes where businesses, government and educational institutions will get funding to develop new technologies, the White House official said.

He will also issue an executive order requiring that newly released government data be made freely available in easily readable formats.

The president's jobs tour is also likely be a chance for him to argue that across-the-board spending cuts referred to as sequestration that went into effect March 1 are slowing economic growth and should be replaced.

The spending reductions went into force after congressional Republicans balked at the president's insistence that any alternative spending cuts be offset by some tax increases. Some Republicans have welcomed the cuts as necessary austerity measures to check government overspending.

Obama Renews Focus on Jobs, Economy with Texas Trip
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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