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Teachers not ‘doing fine’: Can Obama find his footing on recovery?

President Obama urged Congress – again – to pass his $450 billion American Jobs Act to shore up public sector jobs, particularly some 250,000 teaching positions lost in the last three years.

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A group of young children hold hands as they cross the street with their teachers on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, New York.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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While downplaying a remark Friday that the US private sector is “doing fine,” President Obama nevertheless focused on stalwarts of the public sector – teachers – for his weekly Saturday address, saying Washington has to spend more to help states re-hire laid-off teachers.

“There are plenty of steps we can take, right now, to strengthen our economy.  Putting teachers back in our kids’ classrooms is one of those steps,” Obama said. “And there’s no excuse for inaction.  You work hard.  Your leaders should, too.  Especially at this make-or-break moment for the middle class.”

The debate over whether Congress should pass the American Jobs Act, which proposes to spend $450 billion on state aid and infrastructure improvements, has come amid pre-election grappling over the President’s handling of the US economy, and what role a recalcitrant, tea party-infused Congress has played in scuttling Obama’s path to recovery.

While some have calculated Obama has overseen the slowest spending growth in decades, others point to the growth of the overall share of government spending as part of GDP from an average of 20 percent under President Bush to over 24 percent under Obama as evidence that the White House’s main tactic for bolstering the economy is to grow the public, or government, sector.

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