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Bernanke Says Job Growth Is Job One

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, whose efforts to spur economic growth are under fire internationally and at home, on Tuesday said extended high unemployment could exact a high social cost.

"There are obviously very severe economic and social consequences from this level of unemployment," Bernanke said at an event hosted by Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business. "So getting new jobs, getting unemployment down is of an incredible importance."

Reuters reports that Bernanke noted the jobless rate of 9.6% has been hovering near that level since mid-2009 when the recession ended.

Bernanke steered clear of any direct comments on U.S. monetary policy and his brief comments on the health of the economy offered little fresh insight into the Fed's thinking.

As Reuters notes, the U.S. central bank in November launched a program to buy a further $600 billion in longer-term Treasury securities to jump start a weak recovery.

The policy generated surprising outrage overseas and domestically. Trading partners have accused the United States of seeking to weaken the dollar to gain an export edge, while congressional Republicans charge the Fed with sowing the seeds of excessive inflation when the recovery picks up.