"That's my job. And it's a job that I gladly accept. I love these folks who helped get us into this mess and then suddenly say, 'Well this is Obama's economy'."

"That's fine," Obama said. "Give it to me. My job is to solve problems, not to stand on the sidelines and carp and gripe," he said.

Critics have complained about the government's bailout of GM and Chrysler, but Obama said the situation in Michigan - the heart of the US car industry - would be far worse if the government had not acted.

"It was the right thing to do," he said.

Unemployment to worsen

But he conceded that the jobless rate – at 9.5 per cent, already the highest in 26 years - would probably get worse before it got better, saying before heading to Michigan that "my expectation is that we will probably continue to see unemployment tick up for several months".

He also told residents of Michigan that thousands of jobs lost in the car industry were not coming back and that it was time to prepare for new industries.

"The hard truth is that some of the jobs that have been lost in the auto industry and elsewhere won't be coming back," Obama said.

"They are the casualties of a changing economy... And that only underscores the importance of generating new businesses and new industries to replace the ones that we've lost, and of preparing our workers to fill the jobs they create," he said.

Promoting a $12bn initiative to encourage more Americans to seek higher education for new jobs, the president said the 10-year "downpayment" would help community colleges prepare millions of people for jobs in new industries.

But Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator and former education secretary, said Obama's plan is a "typical proposal" that sounds better
than it is.

"When our biggest problem as a country is too much debt, he's taking the entitlement spending he claims to be saving from the student loan programme and adding it to the debt," Alexander said.