By Vicki Needham - 05/02/14 08:44 AM EDT
Employers added 288,000 jobs in April, the most since January 2012, while the unemployment rate fell to a five-year low, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The jobless rate fell to 6.3 percent from 6.7 percent in March, the lowest level since the height of the financial crisis in September 2008.
President Obama credited the jobs increase to the "grit and determination of the American people.”
"We have to keep a relentless focus on job creation and creating more opportunities for working families," Obama said during a press conference with German chancellor Angela Merkel in the Rose Garden. "There's plenty more that Congress should be doing, from raising the minimum wage to creating good construction jobs rebuilding America."
The president said he wanted to work with lawmakers "wherever I can."
"But I keep acting on my own wherever I must to make sure every American who works hard has the chance to get ahead," Obama said, adding that his "top priority" as president was "doing everything that we can to create more jobs and opportunity for hardworking families."
Congressional Republicans have said they too are interested in job-creation measures, with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) saying Friday Obama "ought to call on his Democratic-led Senate to take up the stacks of House-passed jobs measures so we can get this economy moving again.”
"House Republicans have made the people’s priorities our priorities, passing jobs bill after jobs bill to expand opportunity and economic security for middle-class families," Boehner said in a statement.
The unemployment report could be a sign that the economy weathered the brutal winter that slowed economic growth to an anemic 0.1 percent in the first three months of the year.
In another big positive for the labor market heading into summer, employers added 36,000 more jobs than initially estimated in February and March.
February’s revised figure jumped to 222,000 from 197,000, while the total for March increased to 203,000 from 192,000.
Employers have hired 713,000 workers in the past three months, bumping up the monthly average to 238,000 after it had slipped over the winter to less than 200,000.
Still, the jobs report showed a troubling drop in labor force participation, a statistic that captures the number of people in the job market. That number fell to 806,000 in April, following an increase of 503,000 workers in March.
"While it’s welcome news that more of our friends and neighbors found work in the past month, this report also indicates more than 800,000 Americans left the workforce last month, which is troubling," Boehner said.
The overall job market participation rate fell 0.4 percentage points to 62.8 percent, the lowest since the late 1970s.
Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Analytics, said the expiration of the emergency unemployment benefits program is probably weighing on labor force participation.
“Older workers who have lost unemployment insurance are now retiring and stepping out of the workforce,” he said in an email to The Hill.
“This was widely anticipated to happen and now it is showing up in the data.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said despite the solid report, many people are still having trouble finding work.
“Too many Americans are still waiting to feel the effects of the recovery, and many more were struggling long before the recession hit,” she said. “Congress must do more to create an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.”
Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said that while the loss of 800,000 from the labor force was “likely due to fewer entrants as opposed to more leavers,” it can’t be dismissed because “it has been essentially stuck at historically low levels for a while now.”
Jason Furman, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), said that while the report came in above expectations, President Obama “continues to emphasize that more can and should be done to support the recovery.”
Furman said the president will continue pushing Congress for more investments in infrastructure, education and research, an increase in the minimum wage, and a reinstatement of extended unemployment insurance benefits.
The CEA estimates that because of the failure to continue extended jobless benefits this year, the economy has lost 80,000 jobs so far, and failure to renew them is expected to cost another 160,000 for the rest of the year.
The Senate has passed a bipartisan bill that would renew the benefits for five months — through May — but Boehner said the measure doesn't include job creation initiatives he has requested.
Bill co-sponsor Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said Thursday that when he met with Boehner this week and that the Speaker suggested that the White House push the Senate to move on the House-passed GOP jobs bills ahead of a renewal of jobless benefits.
Still, job gains were broad-based across sectors and lower- and higher-wage jobs.
In April, employment in construction grew by 32,000, while manufacturers added 12,000 jobs, up from 7,000 in March.
Professional and business services added 75,000 jobs in April, while retailers added 35,000 jobs.
Justin Sink contributed.
This story was last updated at 1:16 p.m.