The outlook for jobs became a bit less bleak Friday after the government released January’s unemployment rate showing an unexpected decline from 10 percent to 9.7 percent, the first drop in seven months. However, the White House forecasts an average unemployment rate of 10 percent for 2010.

President Barack Obama said the drop in the unemployment rate was “cause for hope but not celebration.” Obama said the figures show modest progress, but he cautioned that the data will continue to fluctuate for months.

In this recession, the job market is still weighed down by little to no hiring due to low consumer spending. Companies have many worries in addition to hiring woes, for instance, the eventual stoppage of government stimulus aid, or possibly higher costs related to taxes or health care measures from Congress and statehouses.

Analysts say the economy is on the verge of creating jobs, though not enough to lower unemployment. Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group, said the report “provides more concrete signs this economic recovery is, at last, working its way into the labor market.”

Initially, most of the jobs gains will come from a burst of federal hiring of census workers. That could add up to 1.2 million jobs this year, though they will all be temporary. Later in the year, more private companies will hire, analysts predict. But economists think job creation will remain tepid.

“I’d be surprised to see the jobless rate heading down in a straight line from here,” said Nigel Gault, economist at IHS Global Insight. “It will be a very, very tough labor market. You’ll be battling with a lot of other people for the relatively small number of jobs that will be created.”

The government now estimates 8.4 million jobs vanished in the Great Recession. And economists say the nation will be lucky to get back 1.5 million of them this year. They also warn it will take until the middle of the decade for the job market to return to normal.