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Job Number Drop Signals Some Recovery

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama was visiting a UPS facility outside Washington yesterday when he paused to announce a special delivery from the Labor Department.

BARACK OBAMA: Today, we learned that we added 230,000 private sector jobs last month. And that's good news.


HORSLEY: Business in general seemed to welcome the encouraging jobs report. As always, though, the President's celebration was tempered by the knowledge of how many jobs were lost during the economic downturn.

OBAMA: Everybody here knows we've got a lot of more work to do. There are still millions of Americans out there that are looking for a job that pays the bills.

HORSLEY: The unemployment rate inched down in March to 8.8 percent. White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee notes that's a full percentage point lower than November's jobless rate.

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE: That is, I believe, the biggest four-month drop in 27 years, which is good progress. But if the unemployment rate's still 8.8 percent, you've got a long way to go.

HORSLEY: The job gains in March came in many different industries, including manufacturing, mining, health care and professional services. January and February's jobs numbers were also revised upwards. Goolsbee says private employers have now added 1.8 million jobs over the last 13 months.

GOOLSBEE: You know, you never want to make too much out of any one month's report. But when you get three, four, five months - now 13 months - in a row of private sector job growth, it's telling you something.

HORSLEY: That may help to explain why so far, the improvements in the job market have not shown up in Mr. Obama's approval ratings. According to a new Gallup poll, just 39 percent of Americans approve of the way Mr. Obama is handling the economy. Gallup's Frank Newport says that number has barely budged in the last year.

FRANK NEWPORT: For the jobs numbers to be translated into political capital, I think people have to perceive the economy's getting better themselves. Not just the raw numbers from the government but their attitudes, their perceptions. And, on that front, we're not seeing any change in economic confidence. It's down. So, until that moves, all the economic data in the world probably isn't going to have much effect on Obama.

HORSLEY: Economists will continue to keep a close eye on Japan and the Middle East for signs that supply shortages or rising oil prices could derail the U.S. recovery. So far, though, the economy seems to be withstanding these foreign headwinds. Yesterday the president warned of another threat closer to home. If Congress fails to agree on a spending plan next week, then the government is forced to shut down.

OBAMA: Given the encouraging news we received today on jobs, it would be the height of irresponsibility to halt our economic momentum because of the same old Washington politics. That's not what we need.

HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.