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Pier Paolo Cito, Associated Press
Musicians perform for money in downtown Rome, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. Italy is at the focal point of the eurozone's struggle to deal with a crisis over heavy levels of government debt in a number of the 17 countries that use the single currency. Fears of default on those debts mean that bond investors demand ever higher interest. If a country can no longer borrow affordably to pay off bonds that are maturing, it winds up needing a bailout or defaulting.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is highlighting recent economic bright spots while taking care not to overstate a recovery that still has not lifted millions out of joblessness.

His Republican rivals acknowledge that there's been improvement. But they say Obama's policies have been a drag on a recovery that could have taken hold sooner.

There have been positive indicators in areas ranging from retail sales and housing to unemployment and falling gas prices. But the European debt crisis is casting a pall over these domestic gains, and many Americans have yet to see the benefits.

Obama cites months of private sector job growth. But, he says, "It's not happening as fast as it needs to."