Even as he heralded the first unemployment drop in months, President Barack Obama began putting the finishing touches Friday on a fresh job creation proposal he's planning to send to Congress next week.
"I still consider one job lost one job too many," Obama told a community college crowd in Allentown. "Good trends don't pay the rent."
The president plans to outline his list of ideas for a new jobs bill in a speech from Washington on Tuesday. Among the plans he's likely to endorse is an expansion of a program that gives people cash incentives to fix up their homes with energy-saving materials, senior administration officials said.
Obama also is leaning toward new incentives, either through the tax code or some other means, for small businesses that hire new workers and toward new spending for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure, said the officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the package, and Obama's speech, are still being crafted and could change.
The president also is open to a federal infusion of money to cash-strapped state and local governments, considered among the quickest and most effective _ though expensive _ ways to stem layoffs. Officials stressed that Obama probably won't mention in his speech every job-stimulating idea he will eventually support.
"We need to grow jobs and get America back to work as quickly as we can," Obama said Friday at Lehigh Carbon Community College. "On Tuesday, I'm going to speak in greater detail about the ideas I'll be sending to Congress to help jump-start private sector hiring and get Americans back to work."
Democrats on Capitol Hill have been pushing for a jobs bill for weeks and are pleased that that Obama is getting on the same page. Under pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the White House and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are now signaling that tapping unused Wall Street bailout funds to pay for a jobs measure is OK.
Because of growing anxiety about federal deficits, Obama has been stressing that government spending shouldn't be increased too much. During his jobs discussion with CEOs and academics at the White House on Thursday, he said it is primarily up to private business to create large numbers of new jobs, because "our resources are limited."
But using the bailout money to pay for a jobs bill would require issuing billions of dollars in new federal debt. And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday that option is being actively considered.
Geithner said Friday in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital" program that the administration planned to lay out some proposals in "the next couple of days" for handling the remaining resources in the government's $700 billion financial rescue fund. The administration must decide by the end of the year whether to shut down the bailout fund or extend the program.
Jobs-related legislation is likely to have to wait until next year given the press of business on Capitol Hill. But legislation to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed and subsidies to help them retain their health insurance is more likely to pass this year.
Job losses in the U.S. have been the worst since the 1930s, but a new Labor Department report Friday showed a relatively moderate shedding of 11,000 jobs last month, the smallest number since the recession began. The unemployment rate dipped from 10.2 percent in October to 10 percent in November.
During a campaign-style swing through Allentown, Obama was upbeat about the new numbers, calling them "good news just in time for the season of hope." But he said the situation is still dire and in need of urgent attention.
Making his pitch _ and Americans' pain _ personal, Obama said his own family had members who were looking for work. The flourish was not included in his prepared remarks.
Evidence of the growing concern in the White House over unemployment problems can be seen in Obama's schedule. He hosted the jobs summit at the White House on Thursday, took the trip to Pennsylvania on Friday and set the jobs-bill speech for Tuesday.
At Allentown Metal Works, the president casually chatted with the kind of working-class voters whose support will be crucial to his plan making its way to Congress and, more daunting, to Democrats' chances in the 2010 midterm elections and his own in 2012. Obama has seen his approval rating slide as his promises of change have slammed into governing reality.
"How you doing?" Obama shouted to workers below a platform where he stood. "Merry Christmas!" he shouted at others. The plant employs about 70 people, and the White House says it's expanding.
The president's motorcade raced past protesters. "Go home," one group chanted. The group also hoisted signs reading "Fail!" and "Republicans work so you don't have to."
Later Friday, Obama made an unannounced stop at a jobs center in Allentown, where he talked with jobseekers about their resumes and the help they've gotten in their search for new employment. He accepted a letter from one woman, promising to read it in private.
"This is a tough environment," Obama said. "This was a rough year."
Obama also visited a pet food company, shaking hands with all 180 workers who lined up inside the factory to greet the president.
Andrew Taylor reported from Washington. AP White House Correspondent Jennifer Loven contributed to this story from Washington.