By Ian Swanson and Sam Youngman - 04/02/10 05:12 PM EDT
Democrats sought to capitalize Friday on news that the economy added 162,000 jobs in March.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and President Barack Obama both hailed the $787 billion stimulus measure for spurring the creation of new jobs, the most the economy has seen in one month in three years.
“Today’s jobs report offers optimism that the economic recovery is starting to reach America’s workers,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Democrats are hoping to move to the economy and job creation following the brutal healthcare debate, during which they saw their president’s poll numbers slide.
They now face a difficult election in November, when Republicans are hoping to make significant gains or even take over the House and Senate.
The economy is expected to dominate the fall debate, and Democrats are hopeful that Friday’s good news reflects a strengthening economy that will have voters feeling better about the country’s leadership in the fall.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said his caucus will "not let up on our job creation efforts until every American who wants a job can find one."
Pelosi said Democrats would continue a pro-jobs agenda, and claimed that healthcare reform will create 4 million new jobs over the next decade.
“Today's jobs report is hopeful news, but we are not finished,” Pelosi said.
House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said the news was no reason for celebration.
While private-sector hiring was encouraging in March, he said it was not nearly what Obama promised when he signed the stimulus package into law.
While the economy added 162,000 jobs in March, the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent and is not expected to fall significantly this year.
The number of long-term unemployed, jobless for 27 weeks or more, increased, and the total number of unemployed held steady at about 15 million, according to the report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Democrats in Congress and administration officials, including the president, were careful to hedge the good news with comments about the work that still needs to take place.
In a speech in North Carolina, Obama said the report shows “we are beginning to turn the corner” on the economy, in part because of the stimulus measure.
Spending and tax cuts included in the stimulus package “have broken this slide and are helping us to climb out of this recession,” said Obama, who described the day as “very encouraging.”
Obama noted that when he took office, the economy was losing an average of more than 700,000 jobs a month and the country appeared on the brink of not just a severe recession but a new depression.
Obama said it had been a tough two years for the country, which was emerging from one of the worst economic periods in its history.
the president warned “we've still got a ways to go,” he declared that
"the worst of the storm is over. Brighter days are still ahead."
Republicans have insisted the healthcare law will hurt the economy and kill jobs, and they continued to press that theme in their reactions to the new jobs news.
House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) released a statement that said any report showing the economy added jobs “is clearly a better alternative to one showing that it lost more jobs.”
“Yet we must set our sights higher, our goals larger, and our actions bolder,” Cantor continued. “Americans deserve far more than the up-and-down, roller coaster-like unemployment reports of the past few months.”
Hiring for the 2010 Census did not appear to have skewed the numbers as much as some had expected.
The report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 48,000 temporary workers had been hired in March by the Census Bureau.
The jump in jobs also reflected increased hiring in manufacturing (17,000), healthcare (27,000), construction (15,000), mining (8,000) and temporary help services (40,000).
Labor also revised its job figures for January and February.
The new January numbers show the economy created 14,000 jobs that month instead of losing 26,000, as was previously reported.
In February, Labor revised its figures to show the economy lost 14,000 jobs instead of the 36,000 jobs initially reported.