By Steve Holland
HUDSON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said Americans need to work longer hours, a remark that drew criticism from Democrats but which he said was intended to highlight that an improved U.S. economy could create more full-time jobs.
Bush told a forum hosted by the Union-Leader newspaper of Manchester that his aspiration for the country if he is elected in November 2016 would be to generate annual 4 percent economic growth "as far as the eye can see, which means we have to be a lot more productive."
"Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows," Bush said. This means, he said, "that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families.”
The Democratic National Committee quickly pounced on the comment as being out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans. Democrats were successful in making that charge against 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, and would like to do the same with Bush.
"It is easily one of the most out-of-touch comments we’ve heard so far this cycle. Jeb Bush would not fight for the middle class as president," DNC spokeswoman Holly Shulman said in a statement.
Bush was asked about the comment by reporters after a town hall event in Hudson. He said the U.S. economy needs to grow far faster than currently to allow people to move from part-time work to full-time so they can better provide for their families.
"You can take it out of context all you want, but high sustained growth means people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success they have disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than standing in line and being dependent upon government," he said.
Bush, at the town hall event, also rejected a statement from rival Donald Trump that he likes illegal immigrants from Mexico because his wife is Mexican-American.
Bush brought up the comment and called it ludicrous when asked about how to secure the U.S.-Mexican border.
Trump, who has made illegal immigration a hallmark of his own presidential campaign, had sent a retweet that said "#JebBush has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife." He quickly deleted it, but told CNN he did not regret the tweet.
Bush said: "My wife is from Mexico. I love her dearly. We've been married 41 years.
"You can love the Mexican culture, you can love your Mexican-American wife and also believe that we need to control the border," Bush said.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Ken Wills)