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U.S. economy strong despite global headwinds

KEVIN FREKING
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy has just completed the best two years of job growth since the 1990s, wages are on the rise and consumers are more confident about the economy than they’ve been in more than a decade. But the United States faced global headwinds that will continue this year, President Barack Obama’s economic advisers said Monday in a new report.

In this Feb. 5, 2016, photo, President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room in Washington. Nine years ago to the day, Obama stood before the Old State House in Springfield and announced his run for president, declaring that "the ways of Washington must change." On Wednesday, Obama returns to the Illinois capital at the twilight of his political career, pleading once again for the type of national unity that has eluded him as president. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The advisers also made several recommendations to reduce income inequality, though many of them rely on cooperation from a wary GOP-led Congress as well as state and local governments.

For example, the Obama

administration supports an increase in the minimum wage, which GOP lawmakers generally oppose. At the local level, the report said that that the expansion of state licensure requirements has made it harder for workers to switch jobs and that local land-use restrictions can constrain housing supply and make it more expensive.

The report said falling oil prices had less of an impact on economic growth than many projected, boosting gross domestic product by just 0.2 percent last year.

Overall, the U.S. is doing better than other advanced economies, said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Wages grew at a rate of 2.5 percent and the unemployment rate dropped to 5 percent by the end of 2015, faster than anyone expected, he said.

Yet, many economists say the recovery has been uneven and left many Americans behind.

In the midst of the presidential election, candidates have spoken often about the need to boost economic growth. Furman warned that demographics factors will make it harder to keep pace with historical rates. He said there’s a lot that government policy can do to aid growth, from making investments in early childhood education and roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and approving a trade pact with Pacific Rim countries. But the population growth is slower and the baby boom generation has turned into a retirement boom. The report says attracting highly skilled immigrants through changes in the law would counter the effects of the aging native-born population.