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Weak Jobs Spurs Big Fed Spending Foes  05/08 07:49

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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 one 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 don'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.

   Michael Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise 
Institute, noted that many businesses have said they cannot find workers to 
hire despite increases in hourly pay. Strain said he plans to monitor upcoming 
reports to see if that pattern holds in what could be a troubling sign for 
Biden's vision of how to generate growth through government spending.

   "If we continue to hear a growing chorus of businesses complaining about 
worker shortages and if wages continue to rise, then it will be tempting to 
conclude that a lot of the 8 million jobs we are currently missing aren't 
coming back," Strain said.

   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses, put the blame 
squarely on the relatively generous unemployment benefits that Biden extended 
as part of his relief package. The group said the checks prevent people from 
accepting jobs.

   "One step policymakers should take now is ending the $300 weekly 
supplemental unemployment benefit," said Neil Bradley, chief policy officer at 
the Chamber. "Based on the Chamber's analysis, the $300 benefit results in 
approximately one in four recipients taking home more in unemployment than they 
earned working."

   Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, 
said he has heard companies say they're struggling to find workers, but he 
didn't see those concerns reflected in the jobs report. For example, 
restaurants and bars added 187,000 jobs last month even though workers in that 
relatively low-wage sector would, in theory, have an incentive to just collect 
unemployment.

   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.

    

 
 
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