Poor April jobs data pose new challenge for Biden agenda
WASHINGTON, May 8: The United States added just 266,000 jobs in April - a quarter of the number expected - in a surprise setback for President Joe Biden's efforts to revive an economy blighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The weak hiring also pushed the unemployment rate up slightly to 6.1 percent, according to the Labor Department's monthly employment report released Friday.
The data defied economists' upbeat predictions that widespread Covid-19 vaccines and government relief measures would allow businesses to return to normal and add one million jobs last month.
Biden said such setbacks are not unusual during recoveries, and the report undermined criticism that his massive spending programs were not needed since the economy was already recovering.
"We knew we were facing a once-in-a-century pandemic and once-in-a generation economic crisis. We knew this wouldn't be a sprint, it'd be a marathon," the president said in comments following the data release.
He again called on Congress to approve two spending proposals costing more than $4 trillion that are aimed at revamping US infrastructure and the workforce.
"We can't let up. This jobs report makes that clear. We've got too much work to do," he said.
While analysts say the jobs rebound may still happen in coming months, the report nonetheless complicates that assumption.
"This is a big miss that changes how we think about the recovery," University of Michigan economics professor Justin Wolfers said on Twitter.
On Wall Street, the Dow and S&P 500 finished at record highs, with investors regarding the weak report as improving the chances Biden's spending plans are approved and the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates lower for longer.
Unemployment surged in the United States when the Covid-19 pandemic began in March 2020, but has declined in the year since, aided by the vaccines and three massive government rescue packages.
The April data show the economy has 8.2 million fewer jobs than it had in February 2020, before the pandemic hit.
In March, Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and is now asking Congress - which his Democrats only barely control - to pass a $2.3 trillion jobs and infrastructure proposal aimed at fighting climate change and revamping roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
He also proposed a $1.8 trillion plan to expand education, childcare and social programs.
The Republican opposition has generally regarded his proposals as a spending spree fueled by tax increases they see as harming American competitiveness, and lawmakers pointed to the downbeat employment numbers to make their case.
"This terrible jobs report needs to serve as an important reminder that jacking up taxes right now on the job creators will absolutely only make this situation worse," Republican congressman Lee Zeldin tweeted. -AFP