- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2015

President Obama’s top economists said Thursday that the nation’s recovery is accelerating but acknowledged in a survey that the benefits are not reaching enough middle-class families.

In its annual report to Congress, the White House Council of Economic Advisers said job growth rose 30 percent faster last year than in 2013. But the report said modest wage gains “cannot make up for decades of sub-par middle-class income growth.”

The report also warned that economic troubles abroad, such as the renewed fiscal crisis in Greece and anemic growth in major trading partners such as Japan, still pose dangers to the strength of the U.S. economic recovery.

In a letter to Congress with the report, Mr. Obama called on lawmakers to approve his economic agenda of expanded tax breaks for the middle class and increased spending on initiatives such as early childhood education. The president also wants to raise several hundred billion dollars through tax increases on mostly wealthier families.

“I will not let politics or partisanship roll back the progress we’ve achieved on so many fronts,” Mr. Obama said.

Cory Fritz, press secretary for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, agreed that the economy is improving but said it is not because of Mr. Obama’s policies but “thanks to the hard work and determination of American workers.”

“Still, far too many continue to struggle with stagnant wages, underemployment and rising health care costs,” Mr. Fritz said. “Instead of pushing the same old policies that have left middle-class families behind, President Obama ought to work with Republicans on better solutions to create robust growth and opportunities for all.”

In touting the economic recovery, Mr. Obama cited increased growth, the lowest unemployment rate since 2009, increased health care coverage, higher energy production and budget deficits that have fallen by two-thirds since he took office in the depths of the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in January. When Mr. Obama took office in January 2009, the jobless rate was 7.8 percent, though it rose quickly that year to a peak of 10 percent.

“Over the past six years, America has risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth,” Mr. Obama wrote. “A new foundation is laid. A new future is ready to be written.”

Although annual budget deficits have fallen from the trillion-dollar-plus levels early in Mr. Obama’s presidency, the national debt has continued to soar and topped $18 trillion late last year. Many economists and policymakers are concerned about rising interest payments crowding out other budget priorities, especially if historically low interest rates also begin to climb.

The report also contains warnings about the potential effects of continued economic struggles in Asia and Europe.

“The available 2014 indicators suggest that the economies of Japan and our euro area trading partners are sagging,” the report said. “A slowdown abroad not only reduces our exports, but also raises risks of financial and other spillovers to the U.S. economy.”

Despite outpacing its industrial peers in growth, the U.S. recovery has struggled to retain cruising speed.

The New York-based Conference Board said Thursday that its index of leading indicators increased 0.2 percent in January, the weakest gain since a 0.1 percent rise in August. In addition, the December increase was revised to 0.4 percent from 0.5 percent.

Five of the 10 forward-pointing indicators in the index made positive contributions in January. The largest boost was from low interest rates and consumer expectations for business conditions. Four indicators were negative in January. The biggest weaknesses came from the new orders index compiled by the Institute for Supply Management and a drop in stock prices.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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