Biden says jobs figures represent ‘steady progress’
President Biden on Friday described the September jobs report as a sign of steady progress in the United States’ economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden zeroed in on the data point showing that the unemployment rate fell below 5 percent for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, characterizing it as a sign of “significant improvement” in the time since he took office.
He said that, on average, the U.S. economy has added 600,000 jobs on a monthly basis under his watch.
“The monthly total has bounced around, but if you look at the trend, it’s solid,” Biden said.
The U.S added just 194,000 jobs in September, falling well short of economists’ predictions of a 500,000-job gain. While the unemployment rate dropped from 5.2 percent in August to 4.8 percent last month, the steep decline is largely due to millions of jobless workers remaining on the sidelines.
The surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the more contagious delta variant severely slowed the recovery, causing employment growth to decline for two consecutive months. Employment growth fell from roughly 1.1 million jobs in July to 366,000 in August and less than 200,000 last month.
The White House has sought to push back on the notion that the figures represented a setback in the recovery, focusing instead on the monthly average gain of 561,000 jobs this year.
“The unemployment rate is now down to 4.8% — in just eight months. We’ve created 2x more jobs under @POTUS in his first nine months than any administration in history,” chief of staff Ron Klain tweeted Friday morning, ahead of Biden’s speech.
Biden argued in his remarks that his administration is making progress on the coronavirus and implementing his broader economic agenda despite the “noise” in Washington as Democrats wrangle over the details of a reconciliation package containing many of his priorities.
“Right now, things in Washington are, as you all know, awfully noisy. Turn on the news and every conversation is a confrontation. Every disagreement is a crisis. But when you take a step back and look at what’s happening, we’re actually making real progress. Maybe it doesn’t seem fast enough,” Biden said. “I’d like to see it faster, and we’re going to make it faster.”
“We’re making consistent, steady progress, though,” he added.
Biden also tried to put the latest data in context, noting that the Labor Department statistics were taken from the middle of September at a time when COVID-19 cases were much higher than they are currently.
The Labor Department conducts two surveys to source data for the monthly jobs report around the 12th day of the month. During the September survey period, the U.S. was approaching the peak of daily COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant, which restricted hiring and walloped consumer confidence.
The president also downplayed the 144,000-job decline in public education while highlighting the more than 300,000 jobs added in the private sector. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday that the steep decline in public education jobs was largely due to seasonal adjustments that may not track how school districts have adjusted hiring amid the pandemic.
Biden encountered perhaps the most difficult stretch of his presidency over the summer as the delta variant spread swiftly among the unvaccinated.
Biden has gotten more aggressive in his strategy for boosting vaccine uptake, mandating COVID-19 vaccines for much of the federal workforce and ordering an emergency Labor Department rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to either require vaccinations or weekly testing.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 66 percent of those eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine are fully vaccinated, totaling 186 million people.
Biden’s approval rating, which was high when he took office, has slipped considerably. A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this week found that 48 percent of U.S. adults approve of his handling of the pandemic, with 50 percent disapproving; meanwhile, 39 percent approve of his handling of the economy, while 55 percent disapprove.
On Friday, Biden sought to make the case for his broader economic agenda, which includes both the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a larger reconciliation package that will include priorities like universal prekindergarten, an extension of the expanded child tax credit, and measures to fight climate change and lower health care costs.
Biden described both packages, which are currently tied up in Democratic negotiations on Capitol Hill, as integral to boosting U.S. competitiveness and rebuilding the economy stronger.
“We risk losing our edge as a nation if we don’t move,” Biden said. “These are the kinds of investments that will get America back in the game and give our workers a chance, a fighting chance.”