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.
Mr. Biden rejected what he called “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.
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.
Critics of the expanded benefit saw the opposite: a clear indication in the report — and in survey data showing businesses are struggling to attract qualified applicants for jobs at the wages they want to pay — that it is time to end the expanded benefit.
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