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Obama Touts U.S. Economy In His Final State Of The Union


All right. Now to something else we heard from the president last night. He said the United States has the strongest and most durable economy in the world.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: More than 14 million new jobs - the strongest two years of job growth since the 1990s. An unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever.


GREENE: We should remember President Obama came into office as the U.S. was entering a pretty terrible recession. But many Americans are still struggling economically today. And let's bring in NPR's Scott Horsley here. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So is the president painting an accurate picture here?

HORSLEY: Well, the U.S. economy is still the largest in the world. China's economy is growing faster, though, as we have been painfully reminded in recent weeks, it's not growing as fast as it was.

GREENE: Right.

HORSLEY: And American employers have been adding jobs for 70 consecutive months. That is the longest expansion on record. The job gains over the last couple of years were the largest since the late-1990s. And unemployment, which peaked at 10 percent during the downturn, is now down to 5 percent. Also, automakers did have a very good year in 2015, selling a record 17 and a half million cars and trucks. And the president touted the rebound in auto manufacturing as part of a broader manufacturing renaissance. Factories have added close to 900,000 jobs over the last six years. Although, factory hiring slowed last year partly in response to the sales slowdown elsewhere around the world.

GREENE: Well, Scott, one other thing the president did, I mean, he sorted of pointed to the gloominess that we have been hearing from some Republicans. And this was a way - this speech - to kind of counter that argument. Let's give a listen here.


OBAMA: Anyone claiming that America's economy is in decline is peddling fiction.

GREENE: Peddling fiction, Scott?

HORSLEY: Well, the White House has been critical of Republicans for their gloomy message on the economy. And certainly by many objective measures the economy is in much better shape now than when the president came into office. There are, however, some blemishes on that record. Wage growth is still pretty sluggish at two and a half percent, although wages did grow faster than inflation last year. Participation in the labor force is somewhat depressed. That's partly, but not entirely, a result of baby boomers retiring. Overall economic growth is still pretty lackluster. And income inequality has widened. The president says those are results of long-running trends that began before the great recession and that continue today.

GREENE: All right. Lots of different objective measures in some ways telling different stories at times. You know, objective measures aside, there are a lot of Americans who are still worried about the economy and many still worried about their job security. And no one seems to disagree with that. The president acknowledged that last night. So what? I suppose that the parties just can't come together on a solution?

HORSLEY: Well, the president did find some common ground and highlighted a few areas of bipartisan agreement, citing, for example, worker training and education as something that's important. He praised the Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan for supporting expanded tax credits for low income workers who don't have children. Those folks don't get a lot of tax help right now. But he also highlighted very partisan disagreements about the government's role in setting the rules of the road and providing a social safety net. He highlighted the Affordable Care Act, for example. But he said, I'm guessing we're not going to agree on health care anytime soon. That's one statement of the president's that is undoubtedly true.

GREENE: All right. We have been speaking about the State of the Union speech with NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks as always.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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