U.S. President Barack Obama said the half-million jobs the U.S. lost in April are "sobering." But he said it is "somewhat encouraging" that the losses are beginning to shrink. The president used the occasion to promote his education and job training programs.

President Obama said while the United States is still in the midst of a recession, the gears of the country's economy are slowly beginning to turn.

"Step by step, we are beginning to make progress. Of course, that is no solace for those who have lost their jobs, or to the small business owners whose hearts break at letting longtime employees go," he said.

The president spoke shortly after the government announced that the unemployment rate rose to a 25-year high of 8.9 percent in April. Labor Department figures show that 539,000 Americans lost their jobs last month, compared to more than 600,000 in March.

Mr. Obama is seeking support for a program he calls the "New Foundation," which he said will help American workers prepare for the economy's eventual turnaround.

"If we want to come out of this recession stronger than before, we need to make sure that our workforce is better prepared than ever before," he said.

Part of Mr. Obama's program is a plan to let jobless people return to college without losing their unemployment benefits. States often require people receiving unemployment to be actively looking for work. Under the president's plan, jobless people could satisfy that requirement by going to school.

The $787 billion economic stimulus legislation the president signed in February gave states billions of dollars to increase benefits to the unemployed.

Mr. Obama intends to encourage colleges to make more financial aid available to people who are out of work.