CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- 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 that businesses added 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.