Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

Recovery

But Biden contends slowdown in hiring means more needed

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Weak jobs report sparks debate on spending by U.S.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden insists an unexpected slowdown in companies’ hiring is clear new proof the U.S. needs the multitrill­ion-dollar federal boost he’s pushing. But his sales effort is challenged by critics who say Friday’s jobless figures show his earlier aid legislatio­n — successful­ly rushed through Congress — is actually doing more harm than good.

Biden’s promised economic comeback hardly stalled on Friday. But it seemed to sputter a bit with a report that found merely modest April job gains of 266,000 and complicate­d his new $4 trillion push for infrastruc­ture, education and children.

The employment report failed to show that the U.S. economy was accelerati­ng so much as stutter-stepping along as the unemployme­nt rate ticked up to 6.1%. Economists had projected roughly a million added jobs last month, and the modest hiring indicated that the earlier $1.9 trillion coronaviru­s relief package has provided an uneven boost so far.

The figures present Biden with a fresh challenge at a critical moment in his presidency. He is betting that an open embrace of massive government spending will help resolve the nation’s public health and financial turmoil — and lift the political prospects for Democrats heading into next year’s elections. But the disappoint­ing jobs numbers could also embolden his critics and stiffen the Republican resistance to the infrastruc­ture package Biden is trying to push through Congress.

Addressing the report, Biden sought to ease concerns.

“We knew this wouldn’t be a sprint — it’d be a marathon,” he said. The pandemic relief package “was designed to help us over the course of a year, not 60 days. A year. We never thought that after the first 50 or 60 days everything would be fine. Today, there’s more evidence our economy is moving in the right direction. But it’s clear we have a long way to go.”

Biden’s opponents say the legislatio­n actually worsened problems in at least one way, with expanded unemployme­nt benefits that gave the jobless a reason to stay at home instead of seeking work.

The president said the jobs data doesn’t show that. And advocates for his plans argue that the report shows more spending is needed to sustain the economy.

There are also issues of supply shortages — for computer chips, lumber and more — that are holding back growth, a reminder that the world’s largest economy seldom bends perfectly to the wishes of lawmakers.

The fate of the president’s agenda may depend on how the public processes and understand­s the April jobs report in the coming weeks, said Jon Lieber, a managing director at the Eurasia Group, a political risk advisory and consulting firm.

“Are the Republican­s able to seize on this as, ‘This is what happens when the government gets involved in the economy and screws things up?’ Or, does the public see this as the need for more government support?” Lieber said. “That’s the argument for the next month.”

One clear takeaway across partisan lines was a need for caution in interpreta­tion. A single monthly report can be volatile. The three-month average of job gains is still a healthy 524,000.

The jobs report hinted at other factors that could strengthen Biden’s agenda. It showed losses for women, who were forced into caregiver roles for children and relatives because of the pandemic. The family demands stopped them from holding outside jobs.

There was a drop of 165,000 for women over the age of 20 last month who were holding or seeking jobs. By contrast, men saw gains of 355,000 in labor force participat­ion.

One way to bring women back could be Biden’s plans to fund child care, create a national family leave program and expand the child tax credit through 2025 — the idea being that government action is needed to unlock the job market.

“When you start squinting at this data to figure out what is going on, it looks like you need more government to get past a labor shortage,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the liberal Center for American Progress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cited the “disappoint­ing” jobs report as proof that Biden’s $4 trillion agenda must be approved quickly.

“The evidence is clear that the economy demands urgent action, and Congress will not be deterred or delayed from delivering transforma­tional investment­s for the people,” the Democratic congressio­nal leader said.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? President Joe Biden spoke about the economy on Friday, saying his relief package was designed to help over the course of a year. “We knew this wouldn’t be a sprint,” he said.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS President Joe Biden spoke about the economy on Friday, saying his relief package was designed to help over the course of a year. “We knew this wouldn’t be a sprint,” he said.

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