North Carolina - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday the United States may be starting to see the end of the 19-month recession and that his policies helped the country from plunging into a depression.
Obama made a detailed defense of his economic policies, from bank and auto bailouts to stimulus spending, in the face of persistent criticism from Republicans that a $787 billion economic stimulus plan has failed to stop the jobless rate from rising to 9.5 percent.
Obama came to North Carolina to promote his plans to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system. But the first part of his opening remarks were about the U.S. economy.
The president said he was startled to see a Newsweek magazine cover that declared, The Recession is Over.
Here's what's true. We have stopped the free-fall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse. That's true. We're losing jobs at half the rate we were when I took office six months ago, he said.
We just saw home prices rise for the first time in three years. So there's no doubt that things have gotten better. We may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession. But that's little comfort if you're one of the folks who have lost their job, and haven't found another.
Obama defended the billions spent to bail out banks.
Because by unlocking frozen credit markets and opening up loans for families and businesses, we helped stop a recession from becoming a depression. And taxpayers are already being paid back -- with interest, he said.
And he said bailing out Chrysler and General Motors helped saved thousands of jobs and prevented further economic upheaval and that the U.S. government expects to get our money back.
Obama has seen his job approval rating take a gradual slide in recent weeks, as Americans have expressed doubts about his policies. A new National Public Radio poll put him at 53 percent approval.
The poll found that 45 percent of those surveyed found that his economic policies helped avert an even worse crisis and are laying the foundation for an eventual recovery, while 48 percent agreed with the statement that Obama's policies had run up a record federal deficit while failing to end the recession or slow the record pace of job losses.
(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, writing by Steve Holland, editing by Vicki Allen)