By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden said on Friday there is a “long way to go” before the country’s economy recovers from a pandemic-sparked recession and urged Washington to do more to helping people after disappointing employment report.
Employment growth unexpectedly slowed in April, perhaps contained by shortages of labor and raw materials. Nonfarm payrolls grew by just 266,000 last month. Economists expected nearly a million jobs to be added.
Biden and his team have said his $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, the Democratic president’s first major legislative achievement, is helping the economy recover.
“Today’s report just underscores, in my opinion, how vital the actions we are taking are,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. “Our efforts are starting to work. But the climb is steep and we still have a long way to go.”
The White House is pushing for more trillions of dollars to be spent on infrastructure, education and other priorities. Republicans, however, oppose the high price tag for Biden’s initiatives, and critics have raised concerns about inflation and the disincentive that generous unemployment benefits could pose for people to return to the workforce.
The White House dismissed that criticism on Friday. Biden said he had not seen evidence that the increase in unemployment benefits is affecting the labor figures.
“Clearly there are people who are not ready and cannot go back into the workforce,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, citing parents whose children have different schedules back to school. “I don’t think the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that is making a difference.”
Jared Bernstein, a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, told Reuters that Biden’s COVID relief and stimulus package, known as the American Rescue Plan, helped create an average of more than half a million jobs per month during the last three months, despite the April data.
“Those are big numbers, and the fingerprints of the American Rescue Plan are on all of those additions,” she said, adding that no change of course is required from the White House, a theme echoed by President Nancy Pelosi. A House Democrat, who lobbied for Biden’s next legislative push to pass.
(Additional reporting by Jonnelle Marte and Merdie Nzanga; edited in Spanish by Manuel Farías)