WASHINGTON (AP) — Determined to keep showing the economy is on his mind, President Barack Obama is dashing into Ohio for the groundbreaking of a road project, hoping to remind the nation that the massive, costly stimulus act is still churning out jobs.
Millions of unemployed people have yet to feel the relief.
Obama was to be on the ground in Ohio for only about 75 minutes Friday, long enough to celebrate what the White House calls a significant moment: the start of the 10,000th road project launched under the recovery act. The president's message is that a summer season of more help is on the way.
Rather than delegating the symbolic occasion to someone else, Obama is going to display a consistent, public focus on the matter people care about most. The economy remains the top worry of Americans this election year, huge numbers of people think the country is going in the wrong direction, and unemployment hovers close to double digits.
The oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is consuming Obama's time. He calls it his singular focus, even as he has described economic recovery his top task, too.
Obama's transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, said the personal attention to the stimulus milestone is important.
"The economy is still lousy," LaHood said Thursday. "I mean, we have unemployment around — a little over 9 percent. And all of us believe that the way to get people back to work is to continue our progress on the recovery act."
The president has made a practice of quick trips out of Washington to explain that the economy is growing again and that companies are hiring workers instead of shedding them in mass numbers, as they were when he took office. Each stop is meant to show he is working to help struggling people.
Friday's visit will be to the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where a $25 million project will add turn and bike lanes and widen sidewalks. It is expected to create 300 jobs.
The splash of attention is part of a broader campaign by Obama's government to promote a burst of jobs-heavy construction activity.
Improvements to national parks, drinking water systems and energy plants are all on the list.
A growing body of independent economic analysis suggests the $862 billion stimulus law has boosted jobs and kept people off the unemployment line.
Exactly how many jobs is a matter of dispute. Much of the money went to programs — tax breaks, Medicaid and unemployment insurance are among them — that don't lend themselves to easy head counts.
Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that the federal effort deserves credit for protecting or creating about 2.5 million jobs so far and is on track to save or form 3.5 million jobs by the end of this year as promised. Independent economists have offered a range of estimates.
Republican critics say the White House has not kept its promises, including that the jobless rate would not top 8 percent if the stimulus bill was passed. It is now at 9.7 percent.
In Ohio, the economy has been sluggish, with automakers and suppliers closing factories. Unemployment hit 11 percent in March, the state's highest rate since September 1983. But the most recent data in April showed a slight improvement, with the jobless rate dipping to 10.9 percent.
The state is also politically significant, often in the center of national elections. Obama won Ohio in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote.
Less than half of Americans, 45 percent, approve of Obama's handling of the economy, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds.
White House officials say the economic signs are plenty encouraging, particularly given the state of the economy they inherited. Biden said polling that shows a dim public view of the stimulus law is unsurprising because people don't follow the details of federal investment programs or statistical measures.
"The measure of it is, is it feeling better? Are they more confident? ... Can I take a vacation? Am I going to buy this car? Do I feel better, am I going to make my mortgage payment?" Biden said. "That's what's happening in America."
Associated Press writers Matt Leingang in Columbus, Ohio, and Matt Apuzzo in Washington contributed to this report.