WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Friday that lower-than-expected job growth in April shows that the U.S. economy is still struggling to recover from the Covid pandemic and that its massive bills for infrastructure and family support are now more than that ever needed.
"This month's job numbers show that we are on the right track," said Biden. "But we still have a long way to go. My laser focus is on growing the country's economy and creating jobs. My laser focus is on vaccination, and my laser focus is on one more thing: making sure that hard-working people are in this country will no longer be left out in the cold. "
Hours before Biden spoke, the Labor Department reported that the hiring slowed dramatically in April. The number of non-farm workers increased by 266,000, significantly less than expected, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.1% due to the increasing shortage of available labor.
Dow Jones estimated 1 million new jobs and an unemployment rate of 5.8%.
Many economists had expected even higher jobs in the face of signs that the US economy was being brought back to life.
Biden said the slow pace of recovery helped disprove critics of the government's Covid relief efforts.
"Some critics said we didn't need the American bailout plan, this economy would only heal itself. I think today's report only underscores the importance of the measures we are taking," said the president. "Our efforts are starting to work, but the climb is steep and we still have a long way to go."
The unexpectedly low job growth could bolster the Biden administration's argument to Congress that the president's $ 4 trillion plans for jobs and families are required to help the U.S. economy escape from the pandemic recover.
Biden's Infrastructure Bill, dubbed the American Employment Plan, would spend $ 2.3 trillion on rebuilding the country's transportation infrastructure and create millions of jobs for workers without a college degree.
The second part of his national agenda, the American Families Plan, would provide an additional $ 1.8 trillion to fund universal preschool kindergarten to offer free community college to every American and subsidize childcare, among other things.
Biden plans to fund his stimulus packages by raising the corporate tax rate, raising taxes on the very rich, filling in loopholes, and increasing IRS enforcement.
And while the president is hoping to gain bipartisan support for the bills, Republicans in Congress have already said tax hikes are a red line that they will not cross.
Negotiations continue, however, and a group of Republican senators are expected to visit the White House in the coming days to meet with the president on possible areas of compromise.
The labor shortage debate
The weak recovery in jobs also reflects what many economists are referring to as multi-sector labor shortages.
"I think it's as much about a lack of labor as it is a lack of labor demand," Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and a former advisor to the Obama administration, told CNBC. "If you look at April, it seems like there were about 1.1 unemployed for every job vacancy. So there are a lot of jobs out there, there just isn't a lot of labor."
Republicans and some employers have attributed the labor shortage to what they believe is too generous unemployment benefits approved by Congress as part of the comprehensive pandemic relief package.
Specifically, they point to a $ 300 per week unemployment bonus, over and above what states allow, and which is due to expire in September.
"I told you weeks ago that every day in Florida I hear from small businesses that they can't hire people because the government is paying them to keep them out of work," Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted Friday.
Biden rejected this argument. "Today's report is a rebuttal to the talk that Americans just don't want to work," he said.
"This report shows that there is a much bigger problem: our economy still has 8 million fewer jobs than when this pandemic started."
The president also said the impact of unemployment benefits on labor markets was "nothing measurable".
Census data gathered over the past few weeks suggests that daycare and school closings have forced millions of Americans to stay home and look after children or monitor online learning.
According to a household impulse census survey conducted in late March, 6.3 million people said they were not working because they had to look after a child who was not in school or daycare. Another 2.1 million cared for an elderly person.
Another 4.1 million Americans said they were not working due to concerns about getting or spreading Covid.
— CNBC's Jeff Cox contributed to this report.