November 12, 2009 (WASHINGTON) --
President Barack Obama says he will hold a jobs summit at the White House next month. The national unemployment rate sits at just over 10 percent, the highest it's been since 1983. That number is even higher in Illinois. In Chicago, there was plenty of focus on the job search Thursday. The president said he knows he's going to be graded on whether more people who want to work can actually find a job in these tough economic times, no matter who is to blame for them. In Chicago, there were job fairs and meetings -- and protests -- all focused on the topic of tackling unemployment. But there's a bit more optimism locally than one might expect. At Kennedy-King College, the president's focus dovetails with the hopes of 800 job seekers there who have heard people with at least some skills can find work. There's lots of interest at a table where recruiters vet prospective employees for the kinds of jobs that have supposedly all but disappeared in America. Manufacturing, there are a lot of companies that are looking for candidates and what we do is pre-screen candidates for the companies," said Juanita Negrete, Manufacturing Works. They are hopeful signals for 27-year-old Marcus Tubbs, a college graduate who was there looking for two jobs -- just to pay the mortgage. "You got certain jobs that are paying about $8 an hour, some are paying $13 an hour. I'm trying to find something that will pay me $15-17 an hour," tubs said. Recruiters from financial and service companies, as well as educational institutions, say people can't give up hope. It's a message heard downtown, at the Inter-Continental Hotel where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is meeting. Outside, protestors denounced the nation's biggest business lobby for being too focused on older industries, such as coal and oil, and not embracing new economy jobs, such areas as alternative energy. "They gave us energy policies that has us spending too much on gas, too much money on electricity and heat, and we are sending dollars out of Chicago, out of Illinois to big-energy companies," said Jack Darin, Sierra Club. "We have to catch up with what is going on in other parts of the world, specifically in Europe, as it relates to wind, but I think we are moving quickly to do that," said Doug Whitley, president, Illinois Chamber of Commerce. Whitley says, however, that business has an interest in creating jobs, sometimes it just depends on what happens in Washington. "It is an unstable time," he said. "They don't know what the new tax burden is going to be, they don't know what this health care bill is going to cost, so there is a cautious nature that is keeping people from hiring right now." Obama said at the White House that a report Thursday showing fewer claims for jobless benefits is "a hopeful sign" but he also said that finding jobs for the millions without them remains one of his administration's greatest challenges.
The president said people "are desperately searching for work" and that the government has "an obligation to consider every additional responsible step we can" to get people back to work. He said the jobs summit in December will bring in experts in both the public and private sector to talk about how to get the job-creation engine running again.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.