Biden and Republicans spar over unemployment as the jobs report disappoints.
A disappointing jobs report released Friday by the Labor Department is posing the greatest test yet of President Biden’s strategy to revive the pandemic economic recovery, with business groups and Republicans pushing the president to end an expanded benefit for the unemployed that they say is causing a labor shortage and risking runaway inflation.
But administration officials say there is no evidence in the report — which found the economy added 266,000 jobs in April, well below the one million jobs many economists expected — that hiring has been slowed by the additional $300 per week that unemployed Americans are currently eligible to receive under the $1.9 trillion economic aid bill that Mr. Biden signed into law in March.
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden urged “perspective” on the report, dismissing negative reactions to the news, including Republican arguments that generous jobless benefits were encouraging workers to sit on the sidelines. The president said it would take time for his aid bill to fully reinvigorate the economy and hailed the more than 1.5 million jobs created on his watch thus far.
“Our efforts are starting to work,” he said. “But the climb is steep, and we’ve got a long way to go.”
“We’re still digging out of an economic collapse that cost us 22 million jobs,” he said.
Republicans cast the report as a sign of failure for Mr. Biden’s policies, even though job creation has accelerated since Mr. Biden replaced President Donald J. Trump in the White House. And they called on Mr. Biden to end the $300 per week unemployment supplement.
“This is a stunning economic setback, and unequivocal proof that President Biden is sabotaging our jobs recovery with promises of higher taxes and regulation on local businesses that discourage hiring and drive jobs overseas,” Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a news release. “The White House is also in denial that many businesses — both small and large — can’t find the workers they need.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the weak report indicated the more generous jobless benefit was hurting employers.
The jobs report “begins to confirm that this is a barrier — not the only barrier, but a barrier — to filling open positions in the recovery,” said Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer. “We absolutely have to begin to make the preparation to turn the supplement off. The sooner we do that, the sooner it’s going to become clear how this has been holding us back.”
Mr. Biden rejected that view and took aim at what he said was “loose talk that Americans just don’t want to work.”
“The data shows that more workers are looking for jobs, and many can’t find them,” he said.
Asked directly by a reporter if he believed the enhanced benefits had any effect on the job gains, Mr. Biden replied, “No, nothing measurable.”
Administration officials stress that the monthly employment numbers are volatile and subject to revision and that the average gain over the last three months remains well above the pace of job creation that Mr. Biden inherited when he took office in January. They say any clogs in the labor market are likely to be temporary and that the recovery will smooth out once more working-age Americans are fully vaccinated.
“This is progress,” Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “We are adding an average of over 500,000 jobs a month” over the last three months, she said. “That’s evidence that our approach is working, that the president’s approach is working. It also emphasizes the steep climb coming out of this crisis.”
Ms. Boushey and Jared Bernstein, another member of the council, both said they saw no evidence in the monthly report that expanded unemployment benefits were deterring Americans from going back to work. They pointed to a gain of 300,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector and to a falling number of workers who told the department they had left the labor force out of concern over contracting Covid-19.
Ms. Boushey and Mr. Bernstein said it appeared the economy was working through a variety of rapid changes related to the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions that have hurt automobile manufacturing by reducing the availability of semiconductor chips and businesses beginning to rehire after a year of depressed activity from the virus.
“It’s our view that these misalignments and bottlenecks are transitory,” Mr. Bernstein said, “and they’re what you expect from an economy going from shutdown to reopening.”
The chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, stressed the potential uncertainties in interpreting data from the pandemic in a blog post analyzing the report. “There is often month-to-month volatility in the jobs numbers,” she wrote. “However, the same ‘amount’ of volatility is more striking when the volume of changes is larger, as it has been during the pandemic.”