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Obama Voices Both Caution, Optimism on Economy

Retail sales in March showed the economy has not yet recovered on the same day President Obama delivered a speech cautioning Americans to be patient as the government tries to turn things around. Kwame Holman provides a report.

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    Our lead story: The latest look at the economy was disappointing today, with retail sales weaker than expected. The report came as President Obama talked of signs of progress, but cautioned it will be slow.

    NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman has our report.


    The numbers from the nation's retailers were a setback to hopes for an early economic recovery. For March, the Commerce Department reported retail sales were down 1.1 percent.

    Consumers spent less on a whole range of goods, from electronics and appliances, down nearly 6 percent, to cars, down more than 2 percent, to clothing, which fell 1.8 percent.

    The sales figures were watched closely by economists, because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

    President Obama took note of that fact in what aides billed as a major economic address at Washington's Georgetown University. He cited consumer spending woes in defending his stimulus program.


    If everybody, if every family in America, if every business in America cuts back all at once, then no one is spending any money, which means there are no customers, which means there are more layoffs, which means that the economy gets even worse. That's why the government has to step in and temporarily boost spending in order to stimulate demand. That's exactly what we're doing right now.


    More broadly, Mr. Obama expressed some optimism about the overall economic outlook, but his remarks were tempered.


    There's no doubt that times are still tough. By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time, we're beginning to see glimmers of hope. And beyond that, way off in the distance, we can see a vision of an America's future that is far different than our troubled economic past.

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