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Obama on economy: Not sure if 'one month episode or a longer trend'

Friday's jobs report was discouraging news for the White House. The unemployment number ticked up for a second-straight month -- to 9.1% -- and 54,000 jobs were created, lower than most forecasts.

President Obama today seemed to express frustration with the speed of recovery and even some of the coverage of jobs data.

"I'm not concerned about a double-dip recession," Obama said during a bilateral news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I am concerned about the fact that the recovery that we're on is not producing jobs as quickly as I want it to happen. ... We are on the path of a recovery, but it's got to accelerate."

We noted in First Read on Friday that "the real fear" in the White House is "a jobless recovery," akin to Japan in the 1990s.

"Prior to this month we had seen three months of very robust job growth in the private sector," Obama added. "And so we were very encouraged by that. This month you still saw job growth in the private sector, but it had slowed down. We don't yet know whether this is a one-month episode or a longer trend."

He added that "economic data that in better times would pass without comment, now suddenly people wonder, well, are we going to go back to this terrible crisis?" And he said, in part, "[O]ur task is to not panic, not overreact."

The economy is the most important issue to this president's reelection chances. If unemployment doesn't improve, it could doom his prospects for a second term. The opposite is also true -- an improving jobs climate would bolster those chances.

He again noted "headwinds" facing the economy, in particular high gas prices. "It has an enormous impact on family budgets and on the psychology of consumers," Obama said.

He, once again, however, underscored the severity of the crisis he inherited and blamed "policy decisions" made over the past decade.

"[I]t's just very important for folks to remember how close we came to complete disaster," Obama said. "The world economy took a severe blow two and a half years ago.  And in part that was because of a whole set of policy decisions that had been made and challenges that had been unaddressed over the course of the previous decade. And recovering from that kind of body blow takes time. And recovery is going to be uneven...."

Merkel gave Obama a measure of credit and cover.

"Two and a half years ago," she said, "we experienced something that didn't exist for decades -- ever since the '20s and '30s of the previous Century. And generally around, because we cooperated so well, we were able to ward off the worst that could have happened."

She acknowledged that the world's powers, including the U.S. and Germany, sometimes disagree, even in a "controversial manner" on how to right the economic ship.

"For example," she said, "do we need more stimulus? How much do we need? How many savings programs and cuts programs do we need? What structural programs do we need? I think that shows great openness, because we're all breaking new ground.

"These are unchartered waters, and we cannot, with all due respect, rely completely on the financial business community to give us good advice every day. They have their own vested interest."