Obama's back-to-basics speech: Economy is better than you think

President Obama aims to highlight the strides the economy has made in a Chicago speech Thursday. It could be a crucial Election 2014 message.

Paul Beaty/AP
President Obama (c.) jokes with Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson (r.), while Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) of Indiana (l.) watches after the president arrived at the Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Ind., on Wednesday. He then took Marine One to downtown Chicago.

Just over a month until Election Day, President Obama is returning to a theme he hoped to make a centerpiece of the midterm campaign: the economy.

Multiple crises overseas, the resignation of the Secret Service’s director after eye-popping threats to presidential safety, and the first case of Ebola in the United States have all kept Mr. Obama in a reactive mode. But in a speech Thursday at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., the president will go on the offensive and highlight the strides the economy has made since the near-economic collapse he inherited in 2009. He will also make another pitch for a hike in the minimum wage and measures intended to boost job creation.

“You’ll hear the president talk about this progress, while acknowledging that too many Americans still don’t feel enough of the benefits of our recovery in their everyday lives,” says White House press secretary Josh Earnest.  

“To make sure these gains are felt more broadly, he’ll lay out the common-sense steps our country should take to raise wages for hard-working Americans, continue to create jobs, and grow our economy.”

Obama's speech comes on the same day as two indications the labor market continuing to strengthen. On Thursday, the Labor Department reported that first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell by 8,000 to 287,000 last week – the lowest level seen in more than eight years. And the number of planned layoffs by U.S. employers fell to a 14-year low in September, according to a report released Thursday by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

An Associated Press-GfK poll, released Wednesday, found that 9 in 10 likely American voters say the economy is either “extremely or “very important.” Only 38 percent of likely voters call the economy “good,” and 34 percent expect it to improve in the coming year.

Democrats appear perilously close to losing control of the Senate, and efforts to improve the public’s perception of the economy could be crucial. Obama has also helped his party raise tens of millions of dollars for the midterms. On Thursday morning, before his speech at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, the president will appear at a private fundraiser for Gov. Pat Quinn (D) of Illinois. Governor Quinn has struggled in the polls, but his numbers have improved of late.

Obama arrived in his hometown of Chicago on Wednesday evening, and headed straight to dinner at the trendy RPM steakhouse with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, longtime friend Marty Nesbitt, and other Chicago friends. Mr. Nesbitt is chairman of the Obama Foundation, which is accepting bids for the Obama presidential library and museum. The bids are due on Dec. 11.

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