WASHINGTON - President Obama's chief economic advisers said yesterday that putting Americans back to work is the first order of business in working the country out of the deepest economic downturn in six decades. Only then can they start tackling the soaring federal debt.

At the same time, Christina Romer, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said she would not consider the recession truly at an end until employment returns to levels last seen at the end of 2007 when the recession began.

Her view was technically at odds with that of Lawrence Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, who said third quarter growth of the gross domestic product - the measure of economic activity - marked a statistical end to the recession.

But the pair did agree with forecasts that the economy would begin producing more jobs in the spring, a trend that could lower the nation's jobless rate from 10 percent.

"I believe that, as do most professional forecasters, that by spring, employment growth will start to be turning positive," Summers said.

Romer agreed but cautioned that the upward trend could be hit by poor showings in some months as those who had given up looking for work re-enter the labor market.

"I would anticipate some bumps in the road as we go ahead," Romer said.

The administration's focus on creating jobs first and worrying about the deficit second shows itself in the president's call for using $200 billion that unexpectedly is available from the $700 billion bank bailout to further stimulate the economy.

He wants to create jobs through spending to improve the nation's infrastructure, lending to small businesses and financial incentives for Americans to make their homes more energy efficient.