MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The nation's unemployment rate edged downward in March, from 8.3% to 8.2%, the lowest number in three years.

And 120,000 new jobs were added to the economy. But those hiring numbers didn't match expectations. And the same report showed fewer people were looking for jobs in March compared to February.

"We're treading water from a very low level," University of Minnesota economist Chris Phelan told KARE. "At this rate it would take about five years to get back to where we were, and that's not even taking into account population growth."

The nation is recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930's. But economists in general continue to say this is one of the slowest,drawn-out recoveries since then.

"What usually happens is you take off like a rocket. You not only start growing again, you grow faster. You catch up," Phelan explained. "You get back to where you would've been if you never had the recession."

President Obama Friday noted that the economy had added 858,000 jobs since December. But he also acknowledged that March hiring figures were a letdown.

"It's clear to every American there will still be ups and downs along the way, and that we've got a lot more work to do," Obama told an invited audience at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy.

The manufacturing and hospitality sectors showed the strongest growth in March, while hiring lagged in retail and construction.

Republicans were quick to pounce on the less than stellarMarch employment numbers.

Second DistrictCongressman John Kline headlined his official news release, "High gas prices stalling already struggling economy." And Sixth District Republican Michele Bachmann, who ran for president last year, called the new numbers "another month of broken promises."

University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson told KARE the economy remains at the top of voters' minds, and those monthly employment snapshots will loom larger as Election Day nears.

"The issuewill be discussed throughout the campaign, and so it's not surprisingRepublicans are saying, 'Hey wait a minute, we want more jobs. We want more people in the labor market'," Pearson said.

"The president is going to ask voters to trust him going through in the future, and compare himself to Republicans looking to the future.Republicans are going to say "What have you done for me lately'?."

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