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Jobs report adds to Biden momentum

A stellar March jobs report is helping President BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE make his case for a major investment in U.S. infrastructure funded by corporate tax hikes. 

Accelerating COVID-19 vaccinations, easing restrictions and growing confidence fueled a remarkable surge in hiring in March, the Labor Department reported Friday, helping the U.S. add 916,000 jobs last month and push the jobless rate down 0.2 percentage points.

The growing strength of the economy is sorely needed for millions of Americans who are still struggling to get by more than a year into the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s also a significant political asset for Biden as he fends off Republican criticism of the next stage of his economic agenda.

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GOP lawmakers have ripped Biden for proposing a series of corporate tax hikes to fund the $2.5 trillion infrastructure proposal, dubbed the American Jobs Plan. While Republicans are usually opposed to raising taxes in any context, they’ve argued that doing so now will undercut the recovery from the pandemic.

The exceptional March jobs gain, however, gives Biden and Democrats a boost as they push to kick the recovery into another gear.

“It's a once-in-a-generation investment in our economic future — a chance to win the future, paid for by asking big corporations, many of which do not pay any taxes at all, just to begin to pay their fair share,” Biden said Friday.

“Asking corporate America just to pay their fair share will not slow the economy at all. It will make the economy function better and will create more energy.”

After shepherding a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill through Congress, Biden is looking to cement a rapid recovery from the pandemic-driven recession and permanently lift the long-term trajectory of the U.S. economy with an eight-year building spree.

Biden’s proposal, released Wednesday, would fund projects to repair 20,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges, expand broadband access to rural and underserved communities, and replace all of the nation’s lead pipes and service lines. It also includes investments in research, development and manufacturing, affordable housing, climate resilience, and access to home and community-based care.

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“I think we were in a decent place in the past, but I think the pandemic has really ripped the bandage off all the scars that we've been hiding for decades,” said Jane Oates, a former Obama Labor Department official who serves as president of non-profit WorkingNation.

“Building back better would be looking at people for what they can do, the skills they have, rather than looking at just where they had the privilege of attending school,” she said. “People and families who are out of work or working below the level they were working in February of last year—do we leave them out and wait and hope that everything will be okay?”

While some Republicans say they’re interested in aspects of Biden’s plan, its size, expansive scope and the tax hikes that would cover its cost make it a non-starter for GOP lawmakers.

The measure can still pass through budget reconciliation without any GOP support if Democrats are united on the measure.

But Democrats can afford barely any defections in the House and none in the Senate, and Republican lawmakers and conservative groups are reminding voters of the tax hikes in seeking to make centrist Democrats pull support for the measure.

“With lockdowns easing and vaccine distribution ramping up, small businesses are reopening and consumer demand is surging. However, the long-term economic outlook remains murky,” said Alfredo Ortiz, president of the Job Creators Network, a conservstive non-profit campaigning against Biden’s proposal.

“Biden’s tax plan is a dagger in the heart of small businesses who are finally getting breathing room after one of the toughest years in history.”

Most economists, however, expect the U.S. economy to accelerate even faster as COVID-19 vaccinations increase and funding from Biden’s relief plan fuels further growth. The surveys used to calculate the March jobs report took place the week Biden signed the bill and before any new aid was disbursed.

Orin Klachkin and Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics said in a Friday analysis that the U.S. is on track to add more than 6 million more jobs this year.

“Looking ahead, the labor market is poised for an impressive run as expanding vaccine distribution, more reopenings, and fiscal stimulus drive a hiring surge,” they wrote.

Even so, the U.S would still be down more than 2 million jobs from pre-pandemic levels, and there are still roughly 4 million people who left the labor force because of COVID-19 with no clear path back in.

Biden administration officials say the long road to a full recovery and the deeply unequal impact of the pandemic makes passage of the American Jobs Plan even more urgent.

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Janelle Jones, chief economist at the Labor Department, cited the increase in the unemployment rate for Asian Americans from 5.1 percent to 6 percent in March. 

“And the rates for Black and Hispanic workers remain high,” she wrote in a Friday analysis. “At the same time, the average duration of unemployment increased by two weeks. We’ll need a tight labor market to get them back to work.”