WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama on Saturday urged Americans to show patience over the economy and argued that his just-concluded Asia trip was critical for U.S. exports, countering criticism he had returned empty-handed.

With unemployment at a generation high of 10.2 percent and once-lofty popularity ratings down, Obama said a December White House forum will leave no stone unturned in the hunt for jobs.

Even though it will take time, I can promise you this: we are moving in the right direction; that the steps we are taking are helping, Obama said in his weekly address, amid signs that the public is getting impatient for results.

A Gallup poll on Friday showed Obama's job approval rating had dropped to 49 percent, the first time he has fallen below 50 percent in this survey, as Americans express dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy and other issues.

Obama's remarks on the economy were his first in public since returning to Washington after an 8-day Asian tour where critics said he had failed to win significant concessions on trade or currency manipulation from partners like China.

But Obama said that progress had been made with Russia and China in sending a unified message to Iran and North Korea about giving up nuclear weapons or face the consequences, while also maintaining pressure to stimulate growth.

Above all, I spoke with leaders in every nation I visited about what we can do to sustain this economic recovery and bring back jobs and prosperity for our people, he said.

U.S. growth jumped in the third quarter, ending the longest economic slump the country has suffered in 70 years, but this has not yet translated into a faster pace of hiring.

Obama's December 3 jobs forum will gather leaders from business and labor to review how to boost credit to small business, encourage firms to hire and boost green jobs and other ideas.

But the White House has already said it will not be about a second stimulus package, potentially limiting how much of a dent the initiative will be able to make in the 15.7 million Americans who were drawing unemployment aid in October.

Obama signaled that any measures hammered out during the jobs conference would have to be fiscally responsible.

It is important that we do not make any ill-considered decisions -- even with the best of intentions -- particularly at a time when our resources are so limited.

But it is just as important that we are open to any demonstrably good idea to supplement the steps we've already taken to put America back to work. That's what I hope to achieve in this forum, he said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington)

(Reporting by Alister Bull; Editing by Sandra Maler)