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President Barack Obama is telling a civil rights group that his administration has more work to do to create opportunities for all Americans and close gaps in education and employment rates between different groups.
The president said Americans of all types are struggling to make good. But he also said the black community faces higher unemployment than other groups. And he said the poorest in society had to sacrifice the most during the recession.
The president made his comments Wednesday before the Rev. Al Sharpton's civil rights group in New York City, making good on a promise he made as a presidential candidate to return there.
Obama spoke about making education more accessible and affordable, calling it the "civil rights issue of our time."
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
Pitching the promise of energy independence, President Barack Obama cautioned Wednesday that it's going to be tough to transition from America's oil-dependent economy and acknowledged there's little he can do to lower gas prices over the short term.
"I'm just going to be honest with you. There's not much we can do next week or two weeks from now," the president told workers at a wind turbine plant. It's a theme Obama's struck before as he tries to show voters he's attuned to a top economic concern with gas prices pushing toward $4 a gallon.
Obama said he wants to move toward "a future where America is less dependent on foreign oil, more reliant on clean energy produced by workers like you." That will happen by reducing oil imports, tapping domestic energy sources and shifting the nation to renewable and less polluting sources of energy, such as wind, the president says. He has set a goal of reducing oil imports by one-third by 2025.
But the president said it won't happen overnight and if any politician says it's easy, "they're not telling the truth."
"Gas prices? They're going to still fluctuate until we can start making these broader changes, and that's going to take a couple of years to have serious effect," Obama said.
Obama needled one questioner who asked about gas prices, now averaging close to $3.70 a gallon nationwide, and suggested that the gentleman consider getting rid of his gas-guzzling vehicle.
"If you're complaining about the price of gas and you're only getting 8 miles a gallon, you know," Obama said laughingly. "You might want to think about a trade-in."
The president spoke at a town hall meeting at Gamesa Technology Corp., a Spanish company that makes giant turbines that use wind to generate electricity. According to the White House, it is the first overseas company of its kind to set up shop in the U.S.
Back in Washington, negotiations continued on a budget deal to avert a government shutdown Friday and Obama urged lawmakers to get it done. The president said he wants to cut spending, but not at the expense of cutting priorities like energy and education.
As fuel prices rise because of growing demand worldwide and political unrest in oil-producing nations in North Africa and the Middle East, drivers are feeling pinched at the pump. Republicans blame Obama and his policies and he, in turn, is striving to show the public that he gets it.
Gasoline prices rose another 2 cents Tuesday to a new national average of just over $3.68 a gallon, according to AAA and other sources. Obama's visit to Gamesa was his fourth energy event since March 11. He's scheduled a fifth for Friday in Indianapolis.
Obama argues that shifting to cleaner and domestic energy sources will help create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness.
Education is another item on Obama's competitiveness agenda. That issue was to be the focus of a speech he was giving later Wednesday to the Rev. Al Sharpton's civil rights group in New York City. Obama's appearance keeps a promise he made to the National Action Network when he spoke there as a presidential candidate in 2007. Obama pledged to return, win or lose.
He returns just two days after launching his re-election bid. He is facing a key constituency that at times has scolded him for not being attentive enough to certain issues, such as double-digit black unemployment, but continues to hold him in high regard.
Obama deflects such criticism by arguing that his polices to expand the economy, create jobs and improve the education system, among other goals, will help the country as a whole, blacks included.
Ninety-five percent of blacks who voted, opted for Obama in 2008. A Gallup poll released last week showed his job approval among blacks holding at 84 percent, about the same as six months earlier.
AP National Writer Jesse Washington contributed to this report.