WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- President Barack Obama signed a nearly $18 billion jobs stimulus bill Thursday meant to encourage private sector hiring, in part, through a series of tax incentives.

The Senate passed the bill on Wednesday in a 68-29 vote that garnered approval from 11 Republicans. This came after the package received House approval two weeks ago. Lawmakers envision the bill as a first step in addressing the nation's 9.7% unemployment rate.

"So here's the good news, a consensus is forming that partly because of the necessary and often unpopular measures we took over the past year, our economy is now growing again and we may soon be adding jobs instead of losing them," President Obama said at a White House press conference. "The jobs bill I'm signing today is intended to help accelerate that process. I'm signing it, mindful that, as I've said before, the solution to our economic problems will not come from government alone."

A key provision of the package will cut Social Security payroll taxes through year-end for employers who hire those out of work for two months or more. Firms also may receive a tax credit if new workers stay employed for a whole year.

"This tax cut will be particularly helpful to small business owners, many of them are on the fence right now about whether to bring in that extra worker or two, or whether they should hire anyone at all," the president said. "And this jobs bill should help make their decision that much easier."

Portions of the bill continue to give firms the ability to speed up write-offs on equipment investments, while also extending funding for a federal transportation program.

Since the recession began, the Labor Department estimates employers have shed 8.4 million jobs. Though job losses have waned in recent months, job creation remains a befuddling problem for lawmakers. The Federal Open Market Committee, again, brought attention to the issue on Tuesday.

In its eagerly awaited monetary policy statement, the group highlighted some improvement in saying the "labor market is stabilizing." But the public sector economists remained tempered in their assessment, adding that consumer spending is being held in check because of high unemployment.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York

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