Biden defends rescue package after disappointing jobs report
President Biden on Friday defended his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan after a disappointing jobs report, arguing that the new data prove the necessity of the legislation and that it would take more time for the economy to recover.
“When we came into office, we knew we were facing a once-in-a-century pandemic and a once-in-a-generation economic crisis. And we knew this wouldn’t be a sprint, it would be a marathon,” Biden said in remarks from the East Room of the White House.
“It was designed to help us over the course of a year. Not 60 days, a year,” he said of the coronavirus relief passed earlier this year. “We never thought after the first 60 days that everything would be fine.”
Biden framed his remarks as an effort to put the jobs report in “perspective,” rebutting characterizations that the figure was disappointing by saying that it represented continued progress as the country battles the pandemic. He noted that the U.S. economy has added 1.5 million jobs in total since he took office in January.
Biden’s comments come after the U.S. economy added 266,000 jobs during the month of April and the unemployment rate rose to 6.1 percent, according to data released earlier Friday. The number came in far below economy experts’ expectations.
The figures led Republicans to swiftly criticize Biden’s agenda, arguing that it proved that his large recovery package was too extreme and incentivized people not to work. Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in March without GOP support using budget reconciliation. The bill provided financial assistance to workers, businesses, and state and local governments, as well as funding to implement a national coronavirus vaccine program, among other provisions.
“Today’s jobs report is a disappointment—just like President Biden’s plan to burden families with more taxes & more debt,” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “While Dems trap people in a cycle of fear & pay them NOT to work, it’s clear the best thing to do is end the crisis-era policies & get Americans back to work.”
Biden pushed back on those claims, saying that the figures showed that the recovery package was needed given the fragility of the U.S. economy. He also said that aspects of the legislation have yet to be felt, noting that assistance to restaurants and state and local governments will start going out this month.
“This is going to continue to improve. Today’s report makes clear, thank goodness we passed the American Rescue Plan. Help is here and more help is on the way and more help is needed,” Biden said.
“Let’s not let up. We’re still digging our way out of a very deep hole we were put in. No one should underestimate how tough this battle is,” he said.
Biden also plugged his $2.3 trillion infrastructure and climate plan that he unveiled earlier this year, saying passing it would create new jobs to further strengthen the economy in the future.
Some have argued that supplemental unemployment insurance was in part to blame for the slowdown in jobs growth. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for ending the $300 weekly supplemental benefit on Friday in the wake of the report.
Biden rejected the notion that the enhanced unemployment benefits included in the rescue package diminished return to work in some categories when asked by a reporter at the end of his remarks.
“No, nothing measurable,” Biden said.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters at a press briefing later Friday that the extra unemployment benefits were not a factor in the slowdown in job growth.
“When we look across states or across sectors or across workers, if it were really the extra benefits that were holding back hiring, you’d expect to see that either in states or for workers or sectors where the replacement rate for [unemployment insurance] is very high you’d expect to see lower job finding rates and in fact what you see is the exact opposite,” Yellen said. “We have had a very unusual hit to our economy and the road back is going to be somewhat bumpy.”
Yellen also argued that the jobs report was stronger than the headline number suggested and, like Biden, cautioned that it would be an arduous road to recovery.
“We knew it would be a long road back to the recovery. That’s why the legislation provided lasting support rather than just a few months of relief,” Yellen said. “We knew this would not be a 100-day battle.”
Vice President Harris stressed the need to lower the cost of childcare in order to address the exodus of women from the workforce in a statement on the jobs report.
“Roughly five million women still can’t work due to childcare issues. This reflects not just the ongoing acute childcare crisis but longstanding structural barriers to families having access to affordable childcare options,” Harris said. “To that end, our American Families Plan will lower the cost of childcare, making it possible for more women to work.”
Updated 4:06 p.m.