Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) -- President Obama and his GOP critics engaged in a war of spin Friday over news that the economy had added 162,000 jobs in March.
The president claimed credit for a nascent economic recovery, while Republicans argued the administration has stifled stronger potential growth.
March was only the third month with job gains since the recession began three years ago, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Last month's national unemployment rate, however, held steady at 9.7 percent.
The country has successfully "turned the corner," Obama told an audience at a lithium battery company in North Carolina. "This has been a harrowing time for our country" but "the worst of the storm is over."
"This month more Americans woke up, got dressed and headed to work in an office or factory or storefront," he said. "More folks are feeling the sense of pride and satisfaction that comes with a hard-earned and well-deserved paycheck at the end of a long week of work."
The president acknowledged that some of his administration's economic policies have not been popular, but he insisted the country cannot return to the more conservative hands-off regulatory philosophy traditionally favored by the GOP.
"[We can't forget] the failed economic policies that got us into this mess," Obama warned.
In turn, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele blasted the president, dismissing dismissed much of March's job growth as a product of the U.S. Census Bureau's addition of 48,000 jobs for its once-in-a-decade head count of the U.S. population.
"It is unacceptable for President Obama to declare economic success when unemployment remains at 9.7 percent and a large portion of the job growth came from temporary boost in government employment," Steele said.
"As Democrats grow big government, Americans grow weary of the strain on family budgets, job security and peace of mind. As America's employers announce the frightening and immediate impact of the Democrat government-run health care experiment on their balance sheets, American workers wonder why the only place exempt from increasingly painful belt-tightening seems to be Washington, D.C."
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, conceded that "any report showing that the economy added jobs is clearly a better alternative to one showing that it lost more jobs." But he said that Americans "must set our sights higher, our goals larger and our actions bolder."
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, a leading House conservative, argued that while the job growth was welcome news, the country is "yet to see the robust private-sector job creation the Obama administration promised would come" from its stimulus plan.
Price said employers, "particularly small businesses, are staring at a litany of tax increases, new government mandates and onerous regulations, all of which threaten to derail their plans for the future."
In a statement, Christina Romer of the White House Council of Economic Advisers acknowledged that the U.S. labor market "remains severely distressed." But she said the March jobs figures show "continued signs of gradual labor market healing."
"Even after adjusting for the 48,000 temporary census workers hired and a rebound effect from the February snowstorms, this number suggests an increase in underlying payroll employment," Romer said.
"While this is the most positive jobs report we have had in three years, there will likely be bumps in the road ahead. ... It is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, positive or negative. It is essential that we continue our efforts to move in the right direction and generate steady, strong job gains."
The U.S. economy has suffered a net loss of 8.2 million jobs since the start of 2008, a month after the official beginning of the recession. The White House and congressional Democrats passed a sweeping $862 billion economic stimulus program last year to help spark a recovery.
There are 15 million people counted as unemployed, down 607,000 since the record high hit in October. The average time those unemployed have been out of a job stands at just under eight months, a record-long duration.
CNN's Chris Isidore, Alan Silverleib and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.