Biden: ‘There’s no question’ the delta variant weighed down jobs report
President Biden on Friday acknowledged a disappointing August jobs report that he blamed largely on the surge in COVID-19 cases, while arguing his administration’s broad plans have been effective at turning the economy around.
Biden spoke shortly after the Labor Department released data Friday morning showing U.S. employers added just 235,000 jobs last month, well short of the 750,000 economists had projected.
“There’s no question the delta variant is why today’s job report isn’t stronger,” Biden said in prepared remarks. “I know people were looking, and I was hoping for a higher number. But next week I’ll lay out the next steps we’re going to need to combat the delta variant to address some of those fears and concerns.”
The president said the path of the economic recovery depended on getting the pandemic under control, as well as Congress passing a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that already made it through the Senate, as well as a multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package that contains other priorities of Biden’s economic agenda such as health care and climate policy.
Biden said he would outline next week how schools and businesses could blunt the effects of the delta variant, which has led U.S. infections to reach numbers not seen since last winter’s deadly spike.
He also urged Congress to make quick work of sending the infrastructure and reconciliation bills to his desk this month, even as the proposed size of the larger Democratic-only measure has run into opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“The third thing we have to do is we have to stick together,” Biden added. “So let’s keep going. Let’s stick together.”
The president conceded multiple times he had hoped to see stronger jobs numbers in the August report, but he and other officials were quick to point to the overall drop in unemployment from 5.4 percent to 5.2 percent, and they have been adamant that economic growth may not be linear as the country digs its way out of the pandemic.
Biden noted the economy has gained jobs each of the seven months since he took office, and he pointed to the passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus package earlier this year as a key reason why.
“This jobs report shows the steps we’ve taken, passing the rescue plan and vaccinating 175 million people, make our economy capable of growing and adding jobs even in the face of this growing delta surge,” Biden said.
Still, the underwhelming jobs report was yet another difficult headline for Biden in the past few weeks. The president spent August grappling with the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and subsequent struggles getting all Americans out of the country, and natural disasters have rocked the Gulf Coast, the Northeast and the Western U.S.
Declines in restaurant reservations, air travel and other key drivers of the recovery raised further red flags about the August jobs haul.
Stagnant job growth in leisure and hospitality, one of the areas of the economy most vulnerable to COVID-19, is another alarming sign for the pace of the recovery. The sector added an average of 350,000 jobs per month since February and remains 1.7 million in the hole from its peak in 2020, the Labor Department said.