Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton pounced on the worst job loss figures in five years Friday to skewer John McCain for Republican policies they blame for deepening the economic gloom.
But the presumptive Republican nominee quickly hit back, warning Democratic "anti-growth" policies would thwart job creation, calling for lower taxes, streamlined regulation and a drive to open markets overseas for US goods.
Democratic pace-setter Obama warned that the figures, showing US firms cut a surprisingly large 80,000 jobs in March, showed an economic "crisis" was spreading throughout society.
"This bad news is just the latest evidence that Washington needs fundamental change because it has failed the American people," he said.
"For millions of unemployed Americans, the American Dream has been slipping away while their government has put special interests ahead of their interests."
"It's time to turn the page on a Bush-McCain approach that tells Americans who are struggling that you're on your own' unless you have a lobbyist in Washington."
The Illinois Senator called for a second stimulus package and an investment in unemployment insurance and the "crumbling" US infrastructure.
"After decades of flawed trade agreements and tax breaks that ship our jobs overseas, we need to invest in companies that create jobs right here at home," he said.
Clinton said the jobs report showed that the economy was "spiralling downward" and that hardworking American families were paying the price.
"It's time the President and John McCain recognize the r-word: reality. Our economy is in serious trouble and unless we act swiftly we could be sliding into a deep and painful recession."
"Perhaps this jobs report will also help John McCain recognize that doing nothing is not an economic strategy in times of urgent need."
Democrats accused McCain of ignoring the need to act to stablize the economy after he expressed disquiet about the idea of large-scale government bailouts to mortgage lenders and homeowners facing foreclosure amid a housing crisis.
McCain said in his own written statement that the jobs figures were a stark reminder of economic challenges, and that many Americans were "hurting."
"Despite today's news, the Democrats will continue to advance their anti-growth agenda.
"The American people cannot afford the Democrats and their economic leadership. Washington must not be an obstacle to economic growth and robust job creation," McCain said.
US employers cut a surprisingly large 80,000 jobs in March, marking the biggest decline in employment in five years, a government report said Friday.
Mounting job losses swelled the national unemployment rate to 5.1 percent last month compared with 4.8 percent in February.
The March nonfarm job losses marked the largest decline since March 2003 and the start of the Iraq war, while the unemployment rate was at its highest level since September 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina struck the US Gulf coast.