Obama said the figures showed that the US economy was headed in the right direction, but not quickly enough.

"Make no mistake, we are headed in the right direction but ... we are not headed there fast enough for a lot of Americans," he said.

"We are not headed there fast enough for me either."

The White House has repeatedly cautioned that unemployment will stay high in coming months, but surveys show that voters still rate the issue as an important factor in the forthcoming congressional elections.  

Analysts have said that the loss of a quarter of million jobs does not augur well for the tentative economic recovery.

But the drop in the unemployment rate may offer some comfort to the markets, which  have been worried by the spectre of a double-dip recession in recent weeks.

Continued weakness in the jobs market has prompted calls for Obama to provide more government spending to revive the economy.

But with the growing national debt set to feature heavily in the elections, officials fear that increasing government spending will leave Obama open to criticism of spending beyond the country's means.