WASHINGTON- President Barack Obama cheered a surprising uptick in December jobs, while warning employees at the country's new consumer watchdog agency that "there are a lot of people that are still hurting out there."
The Labor Department said Friday that the U.S. economy added 200,000 new jobs last month, a number that far exceeded analyst expectations. The new jobs pushed the unemployment rate down to 8.5 percent, the lowest in nearly three years.
"We're starting to rebound," Obama said. "We're moving in the right direction. We have made real progress. Now is not the time to stop it."
Republicans on Capitol Hill also welcomed the positive news, but said there are still not enough jobs being created to drive down unemployment.
"It's good news that more Americans found work last month despite a sluggish economy, but both parties must come together and do more to address the ongoing uncertainty that small businesses face," House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.
Obama called on Congress to extend a Social Security payroll tax through 2012, saying, "We have a responsibility to make sure the economy that we're rebuilding is one where middle class families feel like they can get ahead again."
Speaking at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Obama made no mention of the controversy surrounding his appointment of the agency's director, Richard Cordray.
On Wednesday, the president infuriated Republicans by using a recess appointment to name the former Ohio attorney general to the post. Senate Republicans called the move a power grab and said they have been holding pro forma sessions, in which the Senate is technically active, but no official business is being done.
Among the new agency's tasks: making home loan applications more transparent and less cumbersome, simplifying credit card agreements and prohibiting debt collectors from harassing consumers.
The president told agency staffers their mission is "to make sure the American people have somebody in their corner."