WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama and his likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, are taking opposing views of the latest figures on U.S. unemployment. The numbers provide ammunition for both sides.
The Labor Department says America's private employers created 163,000 jobs in July, more than expected and the most since February.
The unemployment rate, however, edged upward to 8.3 percent, from 8.2 percent in June. The jobless rate has remained above 8 percent since President Obama's first month in office, in 2009.
At the White House, the president said 4.5 million jobs have been created in the past 29 months, and 1.1 million jobs so far this year, but he admitted that more improvement is needed.
"Those are our neighbors and family members finding work and the security that comes with work," said Obama. "But let's acknowledge: We have still got too many folks out there who are looking for work."
While Obama says the numbers are a sign of a continuing recovery, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney calls them "another hammer blow" to the middle class.
Campaigning in Las Vegas, Nevada, Romney said the president's policies are responsible for the struggling economy.
"Policies that have led America to have 42 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent, 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work and underemployed," said Romney. "Those policies, we know where they lead. They lead to an America that is not as strong as it must be for ourselves, for our children and for the world."
The number of jobs created so far this year has been enough to keep pace with population growth, but not enough to bring the unemployment rate down.
The U.S. economy grew at a sluggish 1.5 percent from April through June, after faster growth earlier in the year.
The president said Congress could help speed the economic recovery by passing a tax cut extension for all but the richest Americans. Republicans want the tax cuts continued for all taxpayers.
"Now I just think we have got our priorities skewed if the notion is that we give tax breaks to folks who do not need them, and to help pay for that, we tax folks who are already struggling to get by," Obama added. "That is not how you grow an economy."
The state of the economy is the issue that is most likely to affect the outcome of November's election.
Romney blames the Democratic president for the slow pace of the recovery. Obama says the previous administration's Republican policies made the recession worse and the recovery more difficult.
No president since World War II has run for re-election with unemployment higher than 8 percent. Many public opinion polls show that more Americans like Obama, but more of them trust Romney to lead the economy.
The president has been appealing to middle class voters, saying that he represents their interests and stressing Romney's status as a wealthy businessman. Romney says his business experience will help improve the nation's economy.
Most polls have the two candidates virtually even overall, about three months before Election Day.