Democratic strategists hope that President Obama's speech on unemployment Friday will boost America's confidence that Washington can improve the economy, but such an increase in public optimism appears unlikely.
Obama is expected to argue for his plan to make "target investments" in infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and harbors, to help put people back to work. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says administration officials have "a couple of tricks up our sleeve" to lower unemployment that the president may reveal Friday in the Miami speech.
The national unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent in February from 7.9 percent in January, the lowest since December 2008. But many Americans say this rate is still unacceptable. And economists note that the rate is much higher in many local areas, such as African-American communities, and among some demographic groups such as young people and those without college degrees.
"The public feels it's much worse than the [national] numbers indicate, and it's compounded by the feeling that Washington is so screwed up that it's incapable of anything but making things worse," says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. One indication of voter pessimism is that 58.8 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track while only 33.8 percent say it's headed in the right direction, according to a RealClearPolitics average of various polls.
Obama and congressional leaders have been preoccupied in recent months with finding a way to cut the deficit, but they have failed to reach a long-range compromise on tax increases and spending cuts. Yet it is the unemployment rate that is still a top concern among everyday Americans, Garin says, and voters are expressing frustration that their political leaders have been unable to get much done on that issue.
Obama has agreed to meet with a dozen Republican senators in April to discuss ways to find compromise on major concerns, including the budget and the economy.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.