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US Banks Under Pressure to Lend More

Obama criticizes "fat-cat bankers" who are making profits again, as small businesses and homeowners struggle. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

President Obama told some of the nation's top bankers Monday that they need to explore "every responsible way" to make more loans.

BARACK OBAMA: "America's banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry. And now that they're back on their feet, we expect extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild the economy."

Earlier, he criticized what he called "fat-cat bankers on Wall Street."

Major banks have been doing well since the worst of the financial crisis shook Wall Street more than a year ago. Banks including Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo have recently announced plans to repay government rescue money.

New profits and freedom from the pay limits tied to federal aid mean bankers can again receive big bonuses. But critics say banks are profiting mainly from trading activities, not from making loans to small businesses or homeowners.

Britain has placed a fifty percent tax on bonuses for bankers. There have been calls for similar measures in the United States.

Unemployment rates are the highest in a generation -- ten percent nationally in November. An estimated seventeen percent of the labor force either lacks a job or is not working enough to pay all the bills.

The weak job market has not only hurt spending, the lifeblood of the economy. It also puts pressure on homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgage loans. Record numbers have been told that they could lose their homes. Banks are expected to have sent almost four million foreclosure notices this year.

The administration has had limited success with its promise of seventy-five billion dollars to help struggling homeowners. The Making Home Affordable program aims to prevent up to four million foreclosures. The idea is to get banks to reduce monthly payments. But fewer than thirty-two thousand loans have been permanently changed so far.

Lenders are unwilling to change loans that they suspect will fail anyway. An estimated one-fourth of homeowners owe more than their home is worth. That situation increases the risk that a loan will not be repaid.

Stephen Thode at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania says progress in the housing market will be limited until the job market gets better.

STEPHEN THODE: "Typically the real estate sector leads the economy in a recovery, meaning that it tends to pick up before some other things. But people have to have confidence that things are going to improve."

Most new jobs in the United States are created by small businesses. But small businesses have been hit hard by the recession and now the difficulty in getting loans.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.