By Ken Thomas and Kate Davidson
WASHINGTON -- President Biden pushed back Monday against
Republicans and business groups who say enhanced jobless benefits
are discouraging Americans from working, defending his economic
prescriptions and saying his administration would make clear that
people can't turn down suitable jobs and keep collecting benefits,
except in specific circumstances.
"I never said and no serious analyst ever suggested that
climbing out of the deep, deep hole our economy was in would be
simple, easy, immediate or perfectly steady," Mr. Biden said at the
White House Monday.
The U.S. economy is poised for rapid growth this year as
vaccination rates climb and consumer and business activity picks
up, spurred in part by a flood of federal aid. But Friday's
lackluster employment report has fueled concerns among policy
makers that a shortage of workers could restrain the pace of the
U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 266,000 jobs in
April, the Labor Department said, a sharp slowdown from the
previous month and well below the one million jobs economists
expected to see. A separate report showed there were 7.4 million
unfilled jobs in the U.S.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have argued enhanced benefits for
unemployed workers are holding back the recovery by making it
harder for businesses to fill openings, especially in low-wage
sectors where the benefits may be bigger than the paycheck. The
U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week called on Congress to end the
extra payments now, several months before they are set to
Under relief bills passed by Congress, unemployed workers are
eligible for an additional $300 a week on top of regular state
jobless benefits, which average $318 a week, according to the Labor
Department. That means the average benefit recipient earns better
than the equivalent of working full time at $15 an hour. Those
enhanced benefits are available until September, for a maximum of
nearly 18 months -- about three times longer than most states
The Biden administration has said other factors are keeping
workers on the sidelines, such as fear of getting sick during the
pandemic and lack of full-time child care, which has affected women
Mr. Biden on Monday played down the effects of enhanced jobless
benefits on the labor market, saying "we don't see much evidence of
that." He also said the administration would work with states to
make clear that, under the law, workers receiving benefits who are
offered a suitable job can't refuse the position and keep
collecting benefits, with some limited exceptions, such as because
they have children who can't go to school because of the
"We'll insist that the law is followed with respect to benefits,
but we're not going to turn our backs on our fellow Americans," Mr.
The president is also directing Labor Secretary Marty Walsh to
work with states on reinstating job-search requirements for benefit
recipients, the White House said. States eased those requirements
last year as the pandemic spread and businesses across the country
The White House also touted other steps it is taking this week
aimed at expanding hiring, including distributing aid for child
care centers, restaurants and bars and state and local governments
that was provided by the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package
enacted in March. It also highlighted existing measures it says
could bolster hiring, such as a tax credit for employers that
rehire laid-off workers and a program allowing some employees to
return to work part time and still collect a portion of their
Earlier studies of the extra weekly unemployment payments, which
Congress initially set at $600 a week last year, found they weren't
affecting the rate at which people were returning to work during
the pandemic. But economists cautioned at that time that the
payments could become a bigger factor in reducing labor supply as
the health risks from the pandemic receded.
Some states, including Florida, Montana and North Carolina, have
begun tightening benefit requirements amid concerns of a potential
worker shortage, and others have moved to cut off access to the
federal benefits before they expire at the end of September.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said Monday he
heard concerns about inflation, increased costs and supply-chain
backups during his discussions with workers and business leaders
last week in his home state.
"Almost every employer I spoke with specifically mentioned the
extra-generous jobless benefits as a key force holding back our
recovery, " Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor.
He added: "We should not still be taxing the Americans who are
working to fund continued extra benefits for those staying home.
It's not March of 2020 any more."
Biden administration officials have said they don't see evidence
that overly generous jobless benefits are reducing labor supply. If
the extra payments were a major factor, officials would expect to
see lower job-finding rates in sectors where workers tend to have a
larger share of their past wages replaced by jobless benefits,
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday. "In fact, what you see
is the exact opposite," she said.
Ms. Yellen also said the underlying details of Friday's report
paint a somewhat brighter picture of the labor market. For example,
the number of people working part time for economic reasons
declined, and the average hours worked edged up, she said.
Mr. Biden emphasized that the employment report provides a
one-week snapshot of the labor market from the middle of April.
Since then, every adult became eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine
and vaccination rates have nearly doubled among working-age
Americans, he said.
The U.S. still has about 8 million fewer jobs than before the
pandemic took hold last year, and the number of job seekers rose in
April from March, the Labor Department said.
Meanwhile, economic activity is robust, as newly vaccinated
Americans flush with stimulus checks and savings are shelling out
for cars, furniture and other big-ticket items.
U.S. gross domestic product -- the broadest measure of economic
output -- grew at a seasonally adjusted 6.4% annual rate in the
first quarter, putting the U.S. economy within 1% of its
pre-pandemic peak. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal
expect 2021 economic growth of 6.4%, which would be one of the
fastest growth spurts over the past 70 years.
Write to Ken Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org and Kate Davidson at
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 10, 2021 16:24 ET (20:24 GMT)
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