updated 9/10/2009 2:16:56 PM ET 2009-09-10T18:16:56

White House economists said Thursday that the Obama administration's recovery efforts have saved or created more than one million jobs so far, an optimistic report that economists cautioned was preliminary and uncertain.

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President Barack Obama has promised that his $787 billion stimulus plan will create or save 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year. But the economy has fared worse than the White House predicted when it pitched the jobs plan and officials have sought to beat back criticism that the results did not justify the huge combination of tax cuts, state aid and government spending.

In its first report to Congress on the stimulus, the White House Council on Economic Advisers said Thursday that the economy would have been far worse without the stimulus.

The report attributes the million job figure to the stimulus and other policy actions but says the driving force behind the job creation is the stimulus. Economists cautioned, however, that the estimates must "be regarded as preliminary and understood to be subject to considerable uncertainty."

The report is certain to draw criticism because the U.S. economy has actually lost about 2.5 million jobs since the stimulus was signed in February. Because the White House number is based on economic models, it's impossible to say for certain what that number would have been without the stimulus.

Republicans have struggled at times to find their voice when criticizing the stimulus. Even as they criticize its sizable price tag, some Republican lawmakers have called for even more spending on transportation and infrastructure projects. Some lawmakers who voted against the bill have turned around and touted it when it sent money into their district.

Obama administration officials and some economists believe the stimulus is helping the economy recover and, when it does, the criticism will fade. Thursday's report will bolster that claim, but officials know the most important number remains the unemployment rate, which sits at 9.7 percent.

The White House report noted that, while jobs losses continue to mount, the rate of those losses has slowed from more than 700,000 per month early this year to 216,000 last month.

"These job losses are obviously unacceptable," the report said. "But the change does suggest that we are on the right trajectory."

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