U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on a strikingly positive jobs report before signing two bills aimed at combating fraud in the COVID-19 small business relief programs at the White House on August 5, 2022 in Washington, DC. Credit - Evan Vucci—Pool/Getty Images
He kept the sunglasses on. As Joe Biden walked out onto the south balcony of the White House on a blisteringly hot Friday in August in Washington, he reached up to take off his signature aviator shades, but decided to leave them in place, perhaps a sign of his sunny mood after the release of a record-setting jobs report.
“Today there are more people working in America than before the pandemic began,” Biden said. “In fact, there are more people working in America than at any point in American history.” The U.S. economy added 528,000 new jobs in July, according to data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bringing the unemployment rate to 3.5%, the lowest in five decades.
The jobs numbers, which smashed market expectations, showed that the country has recovered all of the jobs lost during the pandemic. “It puts to an end any notion that the economy is currently in a recession,” says Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. “It’s unabashedly, directly, in every way you look at it, news suggesting the economy is growing robustly, that people are getting jobs. The labor market not only is healing, but has fully healed.”
The positive economic news comes at a time when gas prices have slowly ticked downward since a high in June, and Biden is set to sign new legislation next week to bolster computer chip manufacturing in the U.S. Another piece of legislation on track to move rapidly through Congress could lower prescription drug costs for millions of older Americans, extend assistance for lowering health insurance premiums, and create the largest investment to address climate change in U.S. history.
After months of devastating headlines about soaring inflation, the fallout of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and his dreadful approval numbers, this week brought other developments suggesting Biden’s political future may be looking brighter. Kansas voters resoundingly rejected an anti-abortion amendment to change the state constitution, an early sign that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may motivate more voters to support Democrats in the midterm elections this fall. Finland and Sweden are on track to join the North Atlantic Treating Organization, in a historic expansion of the alliance championed by Biden. And even Republicans expressed approval of the announcement that the CIA had successfully killed Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the planners of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Even Biden’s recent bout with COVID-19 has provided a contrast to how much things have changed under his tenure. His ability to weather the illness with mild symptoms highlighted how the widespread distribution of vaccines and therapeutics have allowed Americans to get back to work. “The policies that have helped put the pandemic in the rearview mirror are a big part of our macroeconomic story right now,” Wolfers says.
Republicans said the low unemployment numbers underscored how American businesses are struggling to find enough workers and that Democratic policies intended to make health care more affordable would discourage more people from joining the workforce. The Inflation Reduction Act, which the Senate is expected to take up this weekend, and the House may send to Biden’s desk by the end of next week, “will worsen the workforce shortage with lavish health care subsidies that provide more affordable health care to the jobless than to those returning to work, on top of crushing tax hikes on ‘Made-in-America’ manufacturers,” Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. “None of this makes any economic sense.”
Biden appears happy to have that debate, noting on Friday that the robust jobs market was evidence he was following through on his promise to orient the economy toward building up the middle class. “Workers are being empowered,” Biden said, adding later, “Where I come from, that’s a good thing and it’s long overdue.”