Obama Works to Keep Economic Optimism Alive

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The unemployment rate fell sharply in December to 9.4 percent -- the lowest level in 19 months but short of what economists predicted.

Still, the new year has ushered in new hope for Americans searching for work, as well as lawmakers working to improve the economy.

As a result, President Barack Obama is trying to reach out to the business community. Just hours after the improved job numbers were released, Obama visited a window manufacturing plant in Maryland.

"We want businesses to grow, we want this economy to grow, and we want to put people back to work," he told workers.

"And I want to promise everybody at Thompson Creek and around the country, we will not rest until we have fully recovered from this recession, and we have reached that brighter day," he continued.

Applications for unemployment benefits are down, fewer people have been laid off, and the holiday shopping season was the best retailers have enjoyed in four years.

"We're going to see this year be a year of rebounding, maybe even better than we are anticipating," said Thad Woodard, president and chief executive of the North Carolina Bankers Association. "I think good things lie ahead."

President Obama is trying to keep that optimism about the economy alive, and has assembled a new economic team to help.

Gene Sperling has been tapped to head Obama's National Economic Council -- a job he also held during the Clinton administration. Sperling previously served as a counselor to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Thursday, the president also named Bill Daley as his new White House chief of staff. Daley previously served as former President Bill Clinton's Commerce Secretary.

Daley has political experience but also has strong ties to the business community -- a group whom the president has struggled to make a connection.

"He possesses a deep understanding of how jobs are created and how to grow our economy," Obama said.

Daley can also help the president navigate his policies through a divided Congress. The president's pick drew quick praise from one of his adversaries -- the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"This is a guy that understands the issues, understands the players, knows the players and knows how to make it work," said Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Liberals have not been happy about Daley's appointment. They worry he's too cozy with Wall Street. Also, they pointed out his former employer, J.P. Morgan Chase, received billions of dollars in federal bailout money.

However, others said he won't have that big of an impact.

"Don't worry too much," said Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor. "I mean, the Chief of Staff is a manager of the White House, not a policy maker. Not even a policy advisor."

However, the appointments of Daley and Sperling are evidence that the president is working to reach out to the business community and repositioning himself as more of a centrist heading into the 2012 elections.

Politically, it may be the president's only option.

A Rasmussen poll finds 87 percent of likely voters rate the economy as a "very important issue." Also, when it comes to who voters think can fix America's economic woes, the poll found voters continue to trust Republicans more than Democrats.

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Jennifer Wishon

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.