"I want to do something I haven't had a chance to do that often during my first year in office, and that is to share some modestly encouraging news on our economy," he told a crowd composed largely of students from Lehigh Carbon Community College.
Official remarks released in advance by the White House did not include the word "modestly."
Noting that the latest jobs report is the country's best since December 2007 - which economists say marked the start of the recession - the president added, "This is good news, just in time for the season of hope."
But he added that "we still have a long way to go," and that one job lost is "one job too many."
"The journey from here will not be without setbacks or struggles," the president said. "But the direction is clear. When you think about how this year began, today's report is a welcome sign that there are better days ahead."
In an exchange that drew laughter from the crowd, Obama took a question from a second-year student who said he has been studying criminology.
"I was wondering if, maybe, if you checked out some of the statistics about legalizing prostitution, gambling, drugs and non-violent crime in order to stimulate some of the economy," the second-year student said.
"That will not be my jobs strategy," Obama responded, smiling.
But he praised the "boldness" of the question. "Part of what you're supposed to do in college is question conventional wisdom. And so you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, which is, you know, thinking in new ways about things," he said.
The president then launched into an extensive explanation of his view on jobs and the shape of the U.S. economy.