The best monthly employment numbers in three years weren't good enough to dispel Democrats' anxiety about how high unemployment will affect their political fortunes.
The Obama administration had anticipated for weeks that the March jobs figures would mark a turning point politically. The numbers were positive, but not as strong has some forecasters had expected.
Senior White House officials last month had collected Wall Street forecasts that anticipated total job growth between 250,000 and 300,000. They said they weren't expecting the numbers to be that high, but at that time, were anticipating at least 200,000. Instead, the March figures showed the economy added about 162,000 jobs.
At that pace of hiring, the economy has a long way to go to rebuild the nearly eight million jobs slashed during the downturn. The 2010 midterm elections and the 2012 presidential campaign will be fought out with millions of Americans struggling with long-term joblessness and millions more anxious about their futures.
"We have to be very cautious," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, N.Y.), chairwoman of Congress's Joint Economic Committee. "Given the number of jobs lost, it's going to take us a long time to bring down this very unacceptable unemployment rate."
Republicans have spent weeks hammering on the jobs issue—saying the newly enacted health-care law will discourage hiring. Their case has been helped by a stream of charges issued by companies affected by the a change in tax deductibility for a drug subsidy.
Democrats have a half-dozen bills pending in Congress that are meant to spur private-sector job growth. One such proposal has been signed into law, and the path forward for the others remains unclear. Congress is in recess until the middle of April. Democrats are worried that failure to pass a meaningful jobs package before Congress's August recess could cost them in November.
Obama sounded an upbeat note during a trip to North Carolina to push his economic and energy policies. "The worst of the storm is over," Obama said during a stop at a battery factory here. "Brighter days are still ahead."
But Obama also called for patience with his efforts. "Government can't reverse the toll of this recession overnight, and government on its own can't replace the eight million jobs that have been lost," he said.
Even before the president touched down in his state, North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer, a former mayor of Raleigh, slammed the president as out of touch.
"The president I believe is familiar with the word audacity," he said. "It takes a tremendous amount of audacity for him to come in North Carolina and to tout job creation."
North Carolina is well above the national average with an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent.