(CHARLES DHARAPAK ~ Associated Press)
"So we can't make any ill-considered decisions right now even with the best of intentions," he said. "We have to be surgical, and we're going to have to be creative." Obama appealed to his audience of academics, business and union leaders and local officials to help him find "the biggest bang for the buck."
Obama said chronic unemployment is "a struggle that cuts deep and touches people across the nation."
He claimed progress has been made toward an economic recovery since the depths of the recession last winter, while saying much more work needs to be done.
Obama said the leading question of the day is "how do we get businesses to start hiring again" and asked his guests to "bring their A-game."
He spoke a day ahead of the release of government figures on unemployment. The jobless rate now is 10.2 percent, the highest since the early 1980s, and most economists believe today's report will show it still above 10 percent, perhaps still rising.
Earlier, the leader of the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, suggested that one way to create jobs is to use leftover money from the Wall Street bailout to pay for new spending on roads and bridges and save the jobs of firefighters, teachers and other public employees.
Republicans staged their own jobs forum across town, inviting a team of mostly conservative economists to a round-table discussion.
"I don't think there is a moment to lose. I think we have to move aggressively toward policies that actually promote jobs. And so far what's been tried hasn't worked very well," said Lawrence Lindsey, a top economic adviser early in the administration of President George W. Bush.
The president acknowledged there was considerable skepticism about government's ability to overcome the employment challenge and even over whether "any discussion like this can produce results."