Obama takes credit as unemployment hits eight-year low

Obama delivers a statement on the economy in the press briefing room at the White House.
Obama delivers a statement on the economy in the press briefing room at the White House.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama took a victory lap on Friday as the US unemployment rate hit an eight-year low.

Seizing on an opportunity to burnish his economic legacy, Obama lauded data showing the unemployment rate fell to 4.9 per cent in January.

"Over the past six years, our business has added 14 million new jobs," Obama said in an impromptu press conference that hailed 71 straight months of private sector job growth.

The White House has long argued that Obama does not get the credit he deserves for pulling the United States out of the Great Recession.

Obama said history had shown his Republican foes were wrong to call for fiscal austerity during the crisis and to criticise the massive stimulus spending Obama pushed to juice the economy.

"Had we adopted some of the policies that were advocated by Republicans over the last four, five, six years, we know that we probably would have done worse," he said.

"We know that because a lot of European countries adopted those policies, and they haven't yet gotten to the same place they were before the crisis."

While growth has returned and the United State is approaching full employment, income inequality is near record levels.

Both Republican and Democratic candidates vying to replace Obama in the White House have lamented the erosion of the middle class.

Obama also hit out at Republicans for their alleged negativity.

"The United States of America right now has the strongest most durable economy in the world," Obama said as the state-to-state primary campaign ahead of the November elections gets under way.

"I know that's still inconvenient for Republican stump speeches, as their doom and despair tour plays in New Hampshire. I guess you cannot please everybody."

Obama insisted that "progress is finally starting to translate into bigger paychecks."

"Talking down the American economy, by the way, does not make that progress."

Obama also used the opportunity to bash Republicans for their criticism of "Obamacare."

The policy extended health insurance to millions more Americans, while banning firms for refusing to cover already ill patients.

"Since I signed Obamacare into law nearly 18 million Americans have gained coverage and our businesses have created jobs every month since." Obama also noted some of the turbulence hitting the global economy, most notably in China.

"There is softness in the global economy. China is going through a transition. That's all creating headwind for overseas. It makes it more difficult."