Obama visits Midwest

Published 10:46 am Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An auditorium packed with people from a distressed community that has seen its unemployment rate triple in the last year came seeking answers.

And on Monday, President Barack Obama took the podium at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind., where last he appeared as a candidate, to try to provide answers.

Obama did not take the stage alone. Before addressing the audience he was introduced by Ed Neufeldt, who told his story about how he and his family have had to struggle during tough economic times.

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“You know, we tend to take the measure of the economic crisis we face in numbers and statistics,” Obama said.

He tried to bridge the gap between those staggering numbers: 3.6 million jobs lost since December 2007, close to 600,000 reported for January alone, an unemployment rate recently surpassing 15 percent in Elkhart, to what those numbers mean.

“We’re talking about Ed Neufeldt and people like him all across this country,” Obama said.

“We’re talking about folks who’ve lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place. Parents who’ve lost their healthcare and lie awake nights praying the kids don’t get sick. Families who’ve lost the home that was their corner of the American dream. Young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can’t afford it.”

Just moments before Obama took the stage, the audience of hundreds cheered in anticipation. Some chanted his name.

The cheers turned to a thunderous roar as Obama tried to assure his audience that he was working to stimulate the economy and generate job growth across the country as well as in Elkhart.

“I promised you back then that if elected president, I would do everything I could to help this community recover,” he said. “And that’s why I’ve come back today to tell you how I intend to keep that promise.”

While Obama’s stimulus package sits with the Senate, the president stressed the need to act as quickly and swiftly as possible.

“We can no longer afford to wait and see and hope for the best,” he said.

At the core of his “recovery and reinvestment” plan, the president claimed, was the intention to create jobs for those Americans out of work. Obama’s plan seeks to create 3 to 4 million jobs over a two-year span. Those jobs range from infrastructure construction jobs to those related to renovating schools, renewable energy and computerizing medical records.

And, “the plan also calls for immediate tax relief for 95 percent of American workers,” Obama said.

To break down the plan’s intentions and specify what its initiatives mean to community members and the general public, Obama turned to providing extended unemployment insurance opportunities, “badly needed tax relief” and student tax credits.

Answering critics who claimed the only jobs Obama’s plan would create were government jobs, he said, “that’s simply not true. More than 90 percent of these jobs will be in the private sector. More than 90 percent.

“Now I’m not going to tell you that this bill is perfect,” Obama said. “It isn’t. But it is the right size, the right scope.”