PRINCETON, Ind. — Boosted by the lowest jobless rate in six years, President Barack Obama on Friday heralded September's hiring rate as the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job growth in U.S. history and declared that the United States is surpassing combined job creation in other advanced economies.
The Labor Department's report Friday that employers hired 248,000 and that the jobless rate fell to 5.9 percent came as Obama was reviving his economic message ahead of the November midterms, calling attention to industrial gains that have helped restore some higher-wage jobs during the recovery from the Great Recession.
"We're on pace for the strongest job growth since the 1990s," Obama said.
Obama was speaking at a steel manufacturing plant in Princeton, Indiana, as part of a new fall political campaign push to promote his pocketbook policies and to claim credit for the upturn in the economy. The visit coincided with a White House announcement for a competition to create a manufacturing innovation institute concentrated on photonics, or the use of light in technology, ranging from lasers to telecommunications.
With large rolls of sheet steel behind him, Obama held a campaign-style question and answer session where he faced pointed questions about his push to raise the minimum wage, escalating health care costs and government environmental policies about coal.
Obama defended increases in the minimum wage, noting that most major companies pay over the current minimum, said health care premiums are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years and said coal is facing tough competition from other energy sources.
"The real war on coal is natural gas," he said. "Because of new technologies, we are now extracting at a rate that is unbelievable."
As Obama casts economic gains on his watch, he is walking a fine line between bullish assurances that the recovery is real and acknowledgment that millions of Americans are still jobless or underemployed.
"This progress that we've been making, it's been hard. It goes in fits and starts," Obama conceded. "It's not always been perfectly smooth or as fast as we want, but it is real and it is steady and it is happening."
Friday's jobs report exceeded expectations and also showed that employers added 69,000 more jobs in July and August than the government had previously estimated.
The number of unemployed fell in September by 329,000 to 9.3 million. Most of them found jobs last month. But nearly 100,000 stopped looking for work, lowering the percentage of Americans working or looking for work to 62.7 percent, the lowest proportion since February 1978.
What's more, wages remained stagnant, dropping 1 cent to $24.53 an hour for all employees. And while Friday's focus was on manufacturing, which generally pays more, the job growth in that sector remained flat.
Overall, the U.S. economy has created 700,000 manufacturing jobs since its low point of 11.45 million jobs in February 2010. Manufacturing jobs are considered crucial because they tend to be higher paying than many of the jobs created during the recovery.
Many industry advocates side with the Obama administration on issues such as overhauling immigration laws and spending more on infrastructure projects but criticize some of his environmental regulatory measures as too onerous.
The manufacturing sector is nowhere near where it was at its peak in 1979 and early 1980 when it accounted for more than 19 million jobs. Between 2000 and the beginning of 2009, the sector lost nearly 5 million jobs.
AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report. Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn