It’s a truism of Wall Street that September and October often bring the sharpest downturns in financial markets. Given that pretext, it’s easy to understand why so many investors, government officials and unemployed workers are jittery about this week’s economic developments.

This perhaps marks a key stretch in shaping the direction of the nation’s economy.

On Wednesday, the Labor Department issued an encouraging report that companies advertised the most jobs in three years and slowed layoffs. Also on Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said in its latest beige book that economic activity in most parts of the U.S. has been sluggish and, in some regions, weakened considerably amid a manufacturing slowdown.

Those reports set the stage for President Obama’s prime-time speech Thursday night before a joint session of Congress, in which he’s expected to outline a $300 billion proposal that addresses the country’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

Officials familiar with the White House plans tell The Associated Press the president will propose a one-year extension of a payroll tax cut and an extension of expiring jobless benefits. Other possibilities include public works projects, tax credits for businesses that hire the unemployed and continuation of other tax breaks for businesses.

Our partner station WBEZ previewed Obama’s speech and what Americans might expect to hear – as well as the reactions that may follow.