CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Barack Obama on Friday hailed a new government report showing the most jobs created in nearly three years. “We are beginning to turn the corner,” he told employees of a manufacturing plant that received government stimulus money.
Steps taken by the government “have broken this slide and are helping us to climb out of this recession,” Obama said several hours after the Labor Department reported that businesses added 162,000 jobs to their payrolls in March.
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Even so, the Labor Department report was a mixed one. The overall unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.7 percent, where it has been stuck since January. And 48,000 of the new workers filled temporary government-created Census Bureau positions. Some 8.4 million jobs have evaporated since the recession began in December 2007.
“That’s a staggering sum,” the president acknowledged, saying, “we’re still going through a hard time.”
But he chose to emphasize the job-creation component of the report.
“I’ve often had to report bad news during the course of this year, as the recession wreaked havoc on people’s lives. But today is an encouraging day. We learned that the economy actually produced a substantial number of jobs instead of losing a substantial number of jobs,” he said.
He spoke at a Celgard LLC factory, which received a $49 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department last August. The company makes high-tech battery components, including membranes used in advanced lithium batteries
The president said the grant was creating nearly 300 direct jobs for the company and more than 1,000 jobs for its contractors and suppliers. He also pledged that a new emphasis on oil and gas drilling will not undercut alternative energy work.
Taking questions from the audience, Obama was asked whether his decision earlier in the week to open the door to offshore oil and gas drilling would hurt development of alternative energy sources.
He said it wouldn’t, and that there was room for both.
“We can’t drill our way out of this problem,” he said.
Obama said a top priority remains improving energy efficiency and promoting clean energy.
But during the transition, he said, the nation needs to find ways to use traditional energy sources in the “most efficient and most environmentally friendly ways.”
Reversing two decades of policy, Obama earlier in the week voiced support for lifting drilling bans off the southern Atlantic coastline, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and in parts of Alaska.