White House downplays surprising February jobs gain, warns US far from recovery
Top White House officials took little solace in the better-than-expected February jobs report, insisting Friday that the U.S. was far from a full and equitable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
The February jobs report released Friday showed the U.S. gaining 379,000 jobs last month, nearly double the consensus estimates of economists. The unemployment rate also dropped 0.1 percentage points to 6.2 percent, its lowest level since March 2020, as businesses prepared for a post-pandemic world.
President Biden’s top advisers, however, sought to spotlight how much economic damage the U.S. needs to repair and shortcomings of the rebound so far as Democrats push a $1.9 trillion aid bill through Congress.
“If you think today’s jobs report is ‘good enough,’ then know that at this pace … it would take until April 2023 to get back to where we were in February 2020,” tweeted White House chief of staff Ron Klain.
If you think today’s jobs report is “good enough,” then know that at this pace (+379,000 jobs/month), it would take until April 2023 to get back to where we were in February 2020.
— Ronald Klain (@WHCOS) March 5, 2021
Even with February’s gain, the U.S. is still 9.5 million jobs short of replacing those lost to the pandemic, and 18 million Americans are on some form of jobless aid, according to the Labor Department. The unemployment rate has also been artificially depressed by the exit of nearly 5 million Americans from the workforce since the onset of the pandemic.
Cecilia Rouse, chair of Biden’s White House Council of Economic Advisers, highlighted in a Friday analysis how Black and Hispanic women have suffered the greatest declines in labor force participation.
“Black women were only 14 percent of the female labor force in February 2020, but have accounted for a disproportionate 26 percent of female labor force dropouts since then,” she wrote. “Hispanic women were only 17 percent of the female labor force in February 2020 but have accounted for 27 percent of the female labor force dropouts.”
The White House’s concerns are shared broadly by economists, who are generally optimistic in the economy’s prospects for 2021 but concerned about the depth of damage yet to be repaired.
“The pace of job growth in February was a pleasant surprise, but it is still too early to get excited,” wrote Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed.com.
“At this pace, it will take about four and a half years to get back to where the labor market would have been without the pandemic. Millions of Americans out of work do not have that time,” Bunker wrote.
Even so, Republicans — who are almost unanimously opposed to Biden’s relief bill — touted the surprising February jobs gain as proof the recovery is well underway.
“America’s hard work and perseverance during the challenges of the last year are finally being realized, and more Americans are being vaccinated,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), former chairman of the Joint Economic Committee. “With a third vaccine now available for distribution, expectations are set for a record recovery from the pandemic-induced recession.”