FACT CHECK: Obama's claims on jobs, health care in economic speech

Economic Indicators Associated Press

A few of President Barack Obama's claims in his speech at Northwestern University on Thursday and how they compare with the facts:

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OBAMA: "Right now, there are more job openings than at any time since 2001."

THE FACTS: True as far as it goes, but a job opening is not the same as a job filled, and companies are taking longer to fill them than before the recession. Although the number of available jobs has recovered from the recession, total hiring hasn't.

Economists cite several likely reasons for this gap.

With the unemployment rate still somewhat elevated, companies may be pickier about the people they hire than they were in flusher times. They also may not be willing to offer high enough pay to attract the workers they want. Moreover, Michael Hanson, an economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says technology has made it so easy and cheap to post jobs that companies may do so even when they're not ready to hire. They may just want to see their options. "It's one big fishing expedition," Hanson says.

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OBAMA: Today, we've seen a dramatic slowdown in the rising cost of health care. ... Meanwhile, partly because health care prices have been growing at the slowest rate in nearly half a century, the growth in what health care costs the government is down, too."

THE FACTS: Here today, gone tomorrow?

Health care inflation has indeed been tame in recent years, but nonpartisan experts from Obama's own Health and Human Services Department predict that's changing, starting this year. Spending will grow by an average of 6 percent a year from 2015 to 2023, a significant acceleration after five years of annual growth below 4 percent, they said in a report last month from the Office of the Actuary.

Obama's health care law, which he credited with keeping costs down, on balance is expected to contribute to the rising costs in those years, because having more people insured means more demand for medical services and more spending. However, a stronger economy and the aging population are considered bigger factors in health care spending than the law.

That's what both the defenders of the law and its critics overlook in their spin. It's not the health care overhaul primarily powering rises or falls in medical spending. It's the economy.

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Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Cal Woodward contributed to this report.