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White House downplays improved jobs numbers

WASHINGTON - Buoyed by good news on the jobs front, the White House claimed credit yesterday for reversing the downward economic spiral while bracing out-of-work Americans for a slow recovery.

The Obama administration also eased away from confrontation with China over its artificially low currency. The United States wants to encourage Beijing's help on nuclear proliferation and new penalties against Iran for its perceived attempts to build a bomb.

The White House wants to cool expectations of a rapid economic recovery before November elections that will determine whether Democrats retain control of the House and Senate.

The economy added about 162,000 jobs in March, the most in nearly three years. A large percentage of the gains were temporary census workers hired by the federal government, and the unemployment rate held firm at 9.7 percent. The additional 123,000 private-sector jobs were the most since May 2007.

The economy is growing again, but at a pace unlikely to quickly replace the 8.4 million jobs erased in the recession that began in late 2007. More than 11 million people are drawing unemployment benefits.

"We've got a long way to go," said Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council. "We've inherited a terrible situation, the most pressing economic problems since the Great Depression in our country." He appeared on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union."

Senate Republicans, however, took issue with the administration's analysis of the jobs picture and recommended broader tax relief with less government intervention.

"Washington should be making it easier to hire and to expand, rather than making it more expensive to grow the workforce or their employees' paychecks," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's office said in a statement.

Meanwhile, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," Arizona's John Kyl, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, accused Democrats of pulling out of bipartisan negotiations on a financial industry oversight bill. Nonetheless, he said he thought there was "a substantial opportunity" for a bipartisan solution.

On the issue of Chinese currency manipulation, Summers denied that a delayed report to Congress amounted to a trade-off for Beijing's support for new penalties against Iran.

China keeps the value of its currency artificially low, making its goods less expensive in the U.S. market and causing American exports to be too expensive for Chinese consumers.

With Reuters

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