Obama urges companies to hire, studies housing moves

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama urged businesses to "step up" and hire workers, pressing banks and other corporations to do more to help an economy that he said would take "several years" to recover fully.

"We've got a lot more work to do to get businesses to invest and to hire," he told the audience in remarks broadcast on Thursday.

"It's going to take us several years for us to get back where we need to be."

The strength of the U.S. economy is likely to be the main factor that determines whether Obama will succeed in holding on to the White House next year.

He said businesses and banks that reaped the rewards of extraordinary measures to pull the country out of a deep recession had a responsibility now to invest hordes of cash into U.S. jobs.

"It is time for companies to step up," Obama said. "American taxpayers contributed to that process of stabilizing the economy. Companies have benefited from that, and they're making a lot of money, and now's the time for them to start betting on American workers and American products."

U.S. companies created jobs at the fastest pace in five years in April, according to the Labor Department, pointing to underlying strength in the economy even as the jobless rate hit 9.0 percent.

Obama said his administration was looking at ways to extend programs to help people struggling with mortgage payments on houses that had lost much of their value.

"We're going to continue to work with Congress to see if we can propose more legislation to encourage longer loan modifications," he said. "We are trying to expand the loan modification program to reach more people."