"So tonight, I'm proposing that we take $30bn of the money Wall Street banks have repaid and use it to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat," Obama said.
He also proposed a new small business tax credit for firms to hire workers or raise wages and to eliminate all capital gains taxes on small business investment and tax incentives to invest in new plants and equipment.
Urging the Senate to follow the House of Representatives in passing a jobs bill, he said: "I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay."
Despite recent stinging political setbacks, Obama said he had "never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight" and would not abandon ambitious plans for longer-term fixes to healthcare, energy and education in the country.
"From the day I took office, I have been told that addressing our larger challenges is too ambitious – that such efforts would be too contentious, that our political system is too gridlocked, and that we should just put things on hold for awhile.
"For those who make these claims, I have one simple question: How long should we wait?" he said.
Saying that countries such as China, India and Germany were "not standing still" and "not waiting to revamp their economies", he urged the US to move quickly to invest in "the infrastructure of tomorrow".
"As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may be, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth."
The speech was relatively light on foreign policy, although he did say that the US was "responsibly leaving Iraq to its people" and all combat troops would pull out of the country by the end of August.
"We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home," he said.
Reflecting what opinion polls suggest is the American public's top concern: jobs and the economy, Obama devoted about two-thirds of his speech to the economy, emphasising his ideas for restoring job growth, taming budget deficits and addressing the bickering and point-scoring that he said was undermining public faith in the political process.
Just last week, Republicans scored a stunning victory by winning the senate seat long held by the late Ted Kennedy, a Democrat, and Obama's party fears that the waning popularity of the president could hurt them in November's congressional and gubernatorial elections.
Acknowledging that his administration "has had some political setbacks", Obama said that "when I ran for president, I promised I wouldn't just do what was popular - I would do what was necessary".
"I campaigned on the promise of change… And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change – or that I can deliver it.
"But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone," he said.
To tackle America's problems and challenges he said, both sides of the political divide must "start anew".
On the issue of healthcare, his erstwhile top domestic priority, he urged Congress not to "walk away from reform".
"Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."
The plan was on the verge of passage when it got derailed after opposition Republicans captured Kennedy's Massachusetts seat, taking away the Democrats' "supermajority" to block procedural hurdles to any bill.
Obama also announced a freeze on spending on discretionary government programmes starting next year, "when the economy is stronger", saying that "families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions - the federal government should do the same".
On national security, he called on politicians to "put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values".
He also proclaimed some success, saying that "hundreds of al-Qaeda's fighters and affiliates" were captured or killed under his watch last year - "far more than in 2008".