Obama Cheers Job Growth in April, but Says There's Still a 'Ways to Go'

WASHINGTON -- President Obama said Friday that the job growth in April is "heartening considering where we were last year," but added, "we've got a ways to go."

The U.S. added 290,000 jobs to nonfarm payrolls in April, but unemployment as a whole rose to 9.9 percent as 805,000 people began returning to look for positions in the workforce.

State and local governments cut 6,000 jobs. But the hiring of 66,000 temporary government workers to conduct the census helped overall payroll growth last month. However, private employers boosted figures by adding a surprisingly strong 231,000 positions last month, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Of those 231,000 positions, the lowest paying jobs in leisure, hospitality, retail and other service-oriented sectors accounted for 66,000.

Obama said the controversial steps by his administration, including last year's stimulus bill, have helped the nation pull out of a serious recession.

"Yes, we've got a ways to go but we've also come a long way," he said.

The numbers are the biggest growth since March 2006, and the White House noted that revised numbers for February and March added an additional 120,000 jobs.

Many economists have predicted the unemployment rate would rise as people come back into the labor force. The jobless rate hit 10.1 percent in October, a 26-year high.

All told, 15.3 million people were out of work in April.

Counting people who have given up looking for work and part-timers who would prefer to be working full time, the so-called underemployment rate rose to 17.1 in April. That shows just how difficult it is to get work

House Republican Whip Eric Cantor said it's always a good thing to see positive gains, but Washington's spending could make it impossible to sustain growth.

"Out-of-control spending in Washington has produced a Mount Everest of debt that we are asking future generations to climb. Even if the economy added 250,000 jobs every month, it would take nearly five years to get back to full employment. Five years is too long," Cantor said. 

Cantor argued that a massive health care program instituted by the federal government will make it more difficult for employers to increase hires.

Economists estimate that the economy would need to grow at an annual rate of 6 percent to 8 percent a quarter for a major reduction in unemployment rates. The economic pace was 3.2 percent in the first three months of this year. 

Job gains in April were widespread. Manufacturers, construction companies, retailers, professional and business services, education and health services, leisure and hospitality and government all showed gains. Among the weak spots: transportation and warehousing, and information companies, which all all cut jobs last month.

The improvements, however, were taking place before the stock market plunged this week on concerns that the European debt crisis could spread. There are fears the crisis could make companies more cautious about hiring in the future, economists warned..

Hiring isn't expected to be robust enough anytime soon to lower the unemployment rate much. Economists think it will remain above 9 percent by the November midterm elections. That could make Democratic and Republican incumbents in Congress vulnerable.

Europe's debt crisis will probably dampen demand for U.S. exports. And the debt crisis may continue to weigh on markets. Thursday's stock market plunge -- the Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 1,000 points before recovering two-thirds of its losses -- introduced fresh uncertainties.

High unemployment and sluggish wage gains are likely to prevent consumers from going on spending sprees any time soon. Small businesses, which usually help drive job creation during recoveries, are having trouble getting loans. That tight credit is crimping their ability to expand operations and hire.

Americans aren't very optimistic either, according to the Associated Press-GfK Poll of April 7-12, which showed just 21 percent of Americans say the economy in good condition.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.