Image: President Barack Obama
JEWEL SAMAD  /  AFP - Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks at a town hall meeting Friday at Celgard, an advanced battery technology manufacturer, in Charlotte, N.C.
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updated 4/2/2010 7:09:25 PM ET 2010-04-02T23:09:25

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.

"We've broken this slide," Obama said several hours after the Labor Department reported businesses adding 162,000 jobs to their payrolls in March . He said the new figures point the way toward "helping us climb out of this recession," the deepest in 80 years.

Obama told workers at a plant that makes high-tech battery components that his aggressive — if unpopular — policies helped add jobs. He spoke at the Celgard LLC factory, which received a $49 million grant from the U.S. Energy Department last August.

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.

"I've often had to report bad news during the course of this year as the recession wreaked havoc on people's lives," Obama said. "Today is an encouraging day. The economy actually produced a substantial number of jobs instead of losing a substantial number of jobs."

Yet, the positive news reported by the government was tempered by some sobering statistics. For instance, many of the 162,000 new jobs went to temporary Census workers. And more than 40 percent of those without jobs have been unemployed for more than six months. Since the recession began in December 2007, some 8.4 million have lost their jobs.

"That's a staggering sum," Obama said.

"We shouldn't underestimate the difficulties we face," he said. "We're still going through a hard time."

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.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama: U.S. economy is 'turning the corner'

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama: U.S. economy is 'turning the corner'

    >>> news" begins now.

    >>> good evening. one reporter today put it this way, the clouds have parted. more jobs were added to american payrolls last month. and in this economy, that is good news. there's no other way to slice it and the president couldn't wait to get out on the road and talk about it. while there are still so many americans out there looking for work, some of them have stopped looking. there were also predictions today that something of a corner has been turned here and recovery might now start to feel real to more americans . here's the number, 162,000 new jobs last month. the unemployment rate held steady at 9.7%. we'll begin our coverage here tonight at the white house with our chief white house correspondent chuck todd . chuck, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. it's the type of jobs report this country and the white house has been waiting for more forethan a year. a possible sign that not only have we hit bottom on this jobs issue, but maybe things are starting look up.

    >> we are beginning to turn the corner.

    >> reporter: that was president obama in charlotte today, touting the first truly positive jobs report on his watch.

    >> at the same time it's important to emphasize while we've come a long way, we've still got a ways to go. economic statistics don't do justice to the pain and anxiety that results from unemployment.

    >> reporter: and the president's chief economist also provided a reality check .

    >> we've lost more than 8 million jobs so it's going to take a lot of months of even faster job growth than this to really fill in that hole.

    >> reporter: and there is still plenty of pain and anxiety deeper in the numbers. the unemployment rate among african- americans actually increased last month, nearly a full percentage point to 16.5%. for hispanics, 12.6%. long-term unemployment went up, not down. percentage of americans out of work six months or longer make up a staggering 44% of the jobless. and there is anxiety at a savannah, georgia , jobs fair. michelle rankin has been out of work for two years.

    >> numbers were better than we were expecting. we were expecting about 150,000. however, we were expecting a bigger boost from the census jobs and that wasn't the case. a lot came from private employment. nothing bad about that.

    >> reporter: back in north carolinaed a an expanding high tech battery plant, the president was optimist.

    >> what we can see here in this plant is that the worst of the storm is over. brighter days are still ahead.

    >> reporter: now, brian, republican criticism was not surprisingly muted with the biggest complaint being, guess what? this job growth isn't fast enough.

    >> chuck todd starting us off on a friday night at the white house . thanks. we

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