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US Chamber sees limp economy, high unemployment rate in election year

US Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue offered a grim outlook Thursday for cutting the politically sensitive unemployment rate, citing slow economic growth.

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In this December 2011 file photo, people wait in line to enter a job fair, in, Portland, Ore. US Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue offered a grim outlook Thursday for cutting the politically sensitive unemployment rate ahead of Election 2012, citing slow economic growth.

Rick Bowmer/AP/File

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US Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue offered a grim outlook for cutting the politically sensitive unemployment rate ahead of Election 2012, citing a forecast for relatively weak economic growth.

“The state of American business is improving – but it is doing so weakly, slowly, and insufficiently to put our nation back to work,” Mr. Donohue in his annual State of American Business address. The Chamber is the nation’s largest organization representing both small and large businesses. 

A key challenge to President Obama’s reelection effort is the fact that 23 million Americans are unemployed, unwillingly working part-time, or have given up looking for jobs. To put these individuals back to work, “our economy has to grow much faster than it is today,” Donohue said. The Chamber predicts the US economy “will actually slow down in the early months of the year,” he said. 

The Chamber estimates economic growth will average about 2.5 percent in the first six months of 2012 and then “work its way back to about 3 percent by the end of the year,” Donohue said. That prediction is in line with forecasts of private forecasting firms. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News predict growth of 2.3 percent for 2012, while Moody’s Analytics predicts economic growth of 2.6 percent.

The government reported Thursday that more Americans than forecast filed for jobless benefits last week. Jobless claims climbed by 24,000 to 399,000 in the week ended Jan. 7, the Labor Department said, in another sign of a challenging employment picture.

Monthly changes in the jobless rate are unpredictable. But over the past 50 years, annual economic growth has had to exceed 3.5 percent to keep the jobless rate from rising, says the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

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