President Biden on Friday said it makes sense to let supercharged federal unemployment benefits expire as scheduled in September as he touted a May jobs report that once again came in well below analyst expectations.
He said the $300-per-week federal boost to unemployment checks that was extended in his $1.9 trillion relief package was a vital lifeline for struggling Americans.
“That makes sense [that it] expires in 90 days,” Mr. Biden said from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Employers added 559,000 jobs in May, the Labor Department reported Friday — well below industry expectations of about 670,000. The U.S. unemployment rate dipped to 5.8%, down from 6.1%.
Mr. Biden touted the May report as part of “historic progress” compared to the state of the economy when he first took office, but the disappointing numbers provided another opening for Republicans critical of the administration’s aggressive stimulus programs.
“America is finally on the move again,” Mr. Biden insisted. “As we continue this recovery, we’re going to hit some bumps along the way — of course that’ll happen.
“[You] can’t reboot the world’s largest economy like flipping on a light switch,” he said.
Half of the states have voluntarily decided to cut off the $300-per-week boost early, saying the added benefits are discouraging unemployed people from looking for work.
The White House had repeatedly downplayed the notion that the boosted benefits were keeping people from reentering the labor force.
Later Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it’s a difficult issue to analyze.
“What we see as the biggest driving factor is vaccines and individuals being vaccinated, feeling safe to go back to workplaces, the fact that child care centers have rehired, that teachers have gone back to work,” she said.
Ms. Psaki said no one from the administration had ever proposed making the benefits permanent “or doing it over the long term.”
But as part of Mr. Biden‘s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, the White House had said the president wanted to work with Congress to automatically tie unemployment benefits to economic conditions — a top priority for liberals on Capitol Hill.
The number of jobs added in May was more than double compared to April, when analysts had projected that close to a million jobs would be added.
The Labor Department on Friday revised April’s initial jobs number by 12,000, from 266,000 to 278,000.
The labor force participation rate was 61.6% in May and has been relatively constant since June 2020.
The U.S. economy is still down more than 7 million jobs compared to its pre-pandemic levels in February 2020, when COVID-19 shut down many sectors of the economy.
Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the labor force participation number mirrors the “stagnant 1970s” and warned that long-term unemployment is still a concern.
“It’s time for President Biden to abandon his attack on American jobs, his tax increases, his anti-growth regulations and his obsession with more emergency spending and endless government checks,” Mr. Brady said.