President Barack Obama announced a new program Friday that aims to lower unemployment levels for veterans and called on Congress to create more jobs.
Obama unveiled the initiative at Honeywell International in Golden Valley, Minn., before heading to Minneapolis as his campaign tours the country in preparation for the November presidential election.
“I place my bets on American workers and American businesses any day of the week,” the president said, encouraging loud cheers from the crowd.
Obama delivered his speech hours after the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced a rather dismal employment report for May.
Unemployment edged up slightly to 8.2 percent, and only 69,000 new jobs were created. In comparison, the average monthly gain for the first quarter of the year was 226,000, according to the report.
Obama acknowledged the numbers in his speech.
“Our businesses have created almost 4.3 million new jobs over the last 27 months, but as we learned in today’s jobs report, we’re still not creating them as fast as we want,” he said.
He also addressed gas prices and the economic crisis in Europe, stating that “we’ve got a lot of work to do before we get to where we need to be.”
Despite the acknowledgement of these difficulties, his speech was optimistic.
“We will come back stronger. We do have better days ahead, and that is because of all of you,” Obama said.
Excited Honeywell employees packed the plant floor and cheered frequently, at one point shouting “four more years!”
Laughter echoed through the factory a few times, particularly at the president’s use of “thingamajig” and his wry acknowledgement that it’s an election year.
“I’ve noticed,” he said. “But we’ve got responsibilities bigger than an election.”
“My message to Congress is: Now’s not the time to play politics, now’s not the time to sit on your hands,” Obama said.
The president pushed his “to-do list” and called on Congress to pass his jobs bill.
The list has five components: reward American jobs instead of outsourcing, simplify refinancing for homeowners, invest in small businesses and hiring, invest in clean energy and put veterans to work.
Seizing on the last of these, he announced the “We Can’t Wait” initiative. The plan is focused on enabling veterans to more easily obtain civilian credentials and licensing in sectors such as manufacturing, health care and transportation.
Honeywell was a fitting location for the pitch — it has engaged closely with the Joining Forces Initiative, hiring 900 veterans since 2011, with 65 employed at the Golden Valley facility.
Service members often learn specialized skills in the field, but struggle translating those into civilian jobs due to lack of certifications, Obama said. He used the example of a combat medic who couldn’t get a job as a first responder upon his return from Afghanistan.
“If you can save a life on the battlefield, you can save a life in an ambulance,” Obama said.
The program will create a faster track of certification for veterans, beginning with partnerships between the military and manufacturing groups this summer.
“I believe that no one who fights for this country should ever have to fight for a job when they come home,” Obama said to applause.
Honeywell employees excitedly snapped photos throughout the speech and craned to see the president as he walked among the crowd following his speech.
Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Minneapolis Councilwoman Diane Hofstede, among others, greeted the president.
From Honeywell, Obama moved to The Bachelor Farmer, a Minneapolis restaurant where he attended campaign fundraisers.
About 20 College Republicans from various universities around the Twin Cities showed up to protest outside the restaurant, which is owned by two of Dayton’s sons.
“We’re there to show people there’s a strong presence of young conservatives in Minnesota,” said Rachel Jansen, a political science junior at the University of Minnesota.
“We wanted to show President Obama that we’re upset with his policies,” said Sean Ness, a University of St. Thomas junior and the executive director of Minnesota College Republicans. “We’re hoping that he’s a one-term president.”
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