The White House downplayed a disappointing May jobs report Friday that showed unemployment inched up to 9.1 percent, with President Obama's chief economist Austan Goolsbee calling the latest number one of the "bumps on the road to recovery."
Labor Department data released Friday morning revealed a sluggish economy that added just 54,000 jobs — far less than April's 244,000 increase.
Mr. Goolsbee said unemployment is still "unacceptably high," but defended the president's economic policies as having staved off an even worse outcome.
"The initiatives put in place by this administration — such as the payroll tax cut and business incentives for investment — have contributed to solid employment growth overall this year, but this report is a reminder of the challenges that remain," wrote Mr. Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, in a blog post on the White House website.
The poor jobs picture has dogged Mr. Obama since his inauguration, and helped propel Republicans in the 2010 elections to control of the House and to significant gains in the Senate.
Now, with Congress divided, both sides traded blame for the weakening numbers.
"Under President Obama's watch, Washington has tied the hands of small business owners with regulations that have made it harder to grow, and has spent money that it doesn't have, leading to sustained unemployment over 8 percent and a national debt of more than $14 trillion," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican. "It is astounding that despite the warning signs and economic indicators, President Obama and congressional Democrats still have failed to offer any concrete plan to create jobs, reduce our debt or grow our economy."
But Mr. Goolsbee warned that monthly jobs numbers are volatile, and are often revised later.
"It is important not to read too much into any one monthly report," he said.
He also said the new report shows the private sector has added jobs for 15 straight months, for a total of 2.1 million, which he said is a good "overall trajectory."
Mr. Obama is likely to address the jobs report in remarks later Friday at a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio.
Democrats on Capitol Hill said the poor employment picture shows Republicans have been too focused on cutting spending and have not spent enough time backing government policies that produce jobs.
"While we can't wave a wand and magically bring down the unemployment rate, policymakers can and must continue to invest in innovation, education and our nation's infrastructure," said Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of Congress's Joint Economic Committee.
Still, the $830 billion Recovery Act, which Mr. Obama signed into law in 2009, failed to meet initial expectations, and has soured many lawmakers' appetite for more government spending to boost the economy.
Before the stimulus passed, the White House projected it would ensure that unemployment would never top 8 percent, and said by May 2011 the rate would have dropped below 7 percent.
Instead, the rate has ticked up three tenths of a percent in the last two months, once again exceeding 9 percent.
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