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Biden defends unemployment extension while Republicans blame it for poor jobs numbers

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WASHINGTON — Faced with disappointing April jobs numbers, President Biden and key members of his administration rejected the notion put forth by Republicans that extending unemployment benefits had incentivized workers to remain out of the workforce.

After giving remarks on the slower than anticipated jobs growth Friday morning, Biden batted down a question suggesting a link between slow employment numbers and expanded benefits.

“No, nothing measurable,” said Biden.

In his remarks, Biden argued that the April jobs report provided proof that Americans are more willing to work than earlier in the pandemic.

“Today’s report is a rebuttal to loose talk that Americans just don’t want to work. I know some employers are having trouble filling jobs. … Our economy still has 8 million fewer jobs than when this pandemic started. The data shows that more workers are looking for jobs, and many can’t find them,” said Biden.

Members of the president’s Cabinet echoed that message on Friday. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told reporters that she did not believe the extension in unemployment benefits dissuaded workers from seeking employment.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks during the daily press briefing on May 7, 2021, in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a press briefing on Friday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

“I don’t think that the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that is making a difference,” said Yellen, speaking to reporters at the White House’s daily briefing.

Yellen admitted that a portion of Americans clearly have hesitations that would pause their re-entry into the labor force due to a cluster of reasons, including the lack of adequate childcare and fears of coronavirus exposure in the workplace.

“It’s clear that there are people who are not able and ready to go back into the labor force,” Yellen said.

Republicans have attempted to link expanded federal unemployment insurance payments of $300 per week, the equivalent of a $15,600 annual salary, to the inability of some businesses to fill positions. On Wednesday, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte said he would be ending the extended benefits.

Hiring signs are posted outside a gas station in Cranberry Township, Butler County, Pa., Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Keith Srakocic/AP)
A "Now Hiring" sign outside a gas station in Cranberry Township in Pennsylvania on Wednesday. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

“Montana is open for business again, but I hear from too many employers throughout our state who can’t find workers. Nearly every sector in our economy faces a labor shortage,” Gianforte said in a statement.

In a Thursday letter to the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster followed Gianforte, writing, “What was intended to be a short-term financial assistance for the vulnerable and displaced during the height of the pandemic has turned into a dangerous federal entitlement, incentivizing and paying workers to stay at home rather than encouraging them to return to the workplace.”

In the latest jobs report, however, the labor participation rate — the percentage of people working or looking for work — ticked up slightly from March, and many businesses have reported success in hiring new workers when they offered higher wages. A Pew analysis from October 2019 found a labor shortage that predated the pandemic and expanded benefits, noting “in 39 states, there are more jobs than people looking for them.” A study from Yale in July 2020 found that expanded unemployment benefits did not affect employment.

President Joe Biden speaks about the April jobs report in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 7, 2021, in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
President Biden speaks about the April jobs report on Friday. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Friday’s jobs report fell well short of expectations from analysts. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 266,000 were added in April, a far cry from a projected figure of nearly a million. Since his inauguration, Biden has unveiled a massive investment across several employment sectors, promising millions of new jobs across the energy, manufacturing and childcare sectors. The White House remains optimistic that jobs numbers will continue to climb, albeit gradually, and is using the slower-than-expected jobs numbers to lend urgency to its push for the $2 trillion American Jobs Plan.

“Let me be clear, the 266,000 jobs added in April represent continued progress,” said Yellen. “I believe we will reach full employment next year, but today’s number shows that we’re not yet finished.”

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