(Adds details, quotes, background.)
ST. LOUIS May 2 (Reuters) - The White House said on Friday that there was no evidence so far that the U.S. economy had slid into recession after the government released an employment report showing only a small decline in jobs.
"The evidence of one isn't there so far," White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters on Air Force One when asked about the prospects for a recession as President George W. Bush headed to St. Louis for a speech on the economy.
The comment was in line with Bush's refusal to call the economic slowdown a recession and Fratto went further to criticize those who have said the U.S. economy was contracting.
"There has been a lot of irresponsible chatter from Chuck Schumer and others," he said, referring to the Democratic New York senator. "We've tried to be very transparent and clear."
The Labor Department reported that 20,000 jobs were shed in April, far fewer than the 80,000 that economists surveyed by Reuters had anticipated would be lost. The national unemployment rate fell to 5 percent from 5.1 percent in March.
Asked if Bush was pleased that the decline was smaller than expected, Fratto said, "We couldn't possibly be cheered by a report that shows a decline in job creation." (Reporting by Thomas Ferraro, writing by Matt Spetalnick and Jeremy Pelofsky, editing by David Alexander)