President Joe Biden on Friday blamed the coronavirus pandemic for a surprisingly weak job report and called on Americans who have still not been vaccinated despite the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
The number of non-farm employees rose by just 235,000 in August, the Labor Department reported, well below the 720,000 new hires predicted by economists. The report showed the smallest monthly jobs since January.
"There is no question that the Delta variant is the reason why today's job report is not stronger," said Biden shortly after the data was published in the White House.
Biden, who focused much of his first leg at the White House on the pandemic, said, "We need to make more progress on fighting the Delta variant."
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Despite the government's ongoing vaccination push, tens of millions of eligible Americans still haven't received even a single dose of a Covid shot. Biden said the group is prolonging the pandemic and adding to fears that affect the economy.
"This is an ongoing pandemic of the unvaccinated," said the president. "Too many have not been vaccinated and that creates a lot of uneasiness in our economy and at our kitchen tables."
Less than 64% of US adults, approximately 175 million people, are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot Covid vaccine, the only one to receive full Food and Drug Administration approval, is only available to people aged 16 and over. Children aged 12-15 can still receive Pfizer's injection in an emergency.
Biden acknowledged the weak numbers in the report – "I was hoping for a higher number," he said. Nonetheless, he defended the economic progress that the US has seen under his administration.
"What we are seeing is an economic recovery that is lasting and strong. The Biden plan is working. We are getting results."
The President highlighted the decline in the unemployment rate from 6.3% in January to 5.2% in the latest report.
He also teased new steps the White House would take next week to combat the Delta variant, hinting that measures would focus on protecting schools, businesses, families and the economy from the virus.
The proliferation of the Delta variant has resulted in another huge spike in Covid cases, hospital admissions and deaths across the country, with southern states being particularly hard hit. Florida has a higher Covid hospitalization rate than anywhere else in the US, and this week broke its record for the largest single-day increase in deaths on Thursday with 1,338 reported deaths on Thursday.
Some experts predict that the northeast is facing another surge.
"Whether we see such a dense and severe wave of infections now as in the south, I don't think that will be the case because we have a lot more vaccinations; we had a lot of pre-infections that we also know." protects, "Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who served two years as FDA chief under then-President Donald Trump, told CNBC on Friday.
"But we will likely see construction in cases here in the northeast," he said. "I don't think we're done with this."