The Labor Department’s report that the economy added 559,000 jobs in May, an acceleration from April, buoyed Democrats and the Biden administration on Friday, adding new fuel to the president’s claims that vaccinations and his economic program are beginning to get the economy back on track after a halting recovery from pandemic recession.
“This is historic progress,” Mr. Biden said in remarks from Rehoboth Beach, Del. “Progress that’s pulling our economy out of the worst crisis it’s been in in 100 years.”
He went on to claim credit for that progress, both from his administration’s campaign to ramp up America’s vaccine production and distribution and from the $1.9 trillion economic aid legislation he signed into law in March.
“None of this success is an accident, it isn’t,” Mr. Biden said, hailing “the cooperation, the American people in responding to my effort to get covered under control, wearing masks conditioning and getting vaccinated. And it’s no small part of the bold action we took by passing the American rescue plan.”
But the report, which fell short of analyst expectations for the second straight month and showed a slight shrinkage in the labor force, also provided fodder for Republican critics of the president. They say enhanced unemployment benefits — which were extended by Mr. Biden’s aid legislation in March — are discouraging workers from returning to jobs and holding back what could be an even faster recovery.
“Long-term unemployment is higher than when the pandemic started, and labor force participation mirrors the stagnant 1970s,” Representative Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a news release. “It’s time for President Biden to abandon his attack on American jobs, his tax increases, his anti-growth regulations and his obsession with more emergency spending and endless government checks.”
After the April report fell substantially short of expectations, Republican governors across the country moved to prematurely end the $300-per-week supplemental unemployment benefits that began under President Donald J. Trump and are scheduled to continue through September under Mr. Biden’s aid package.
Mr. Biden said Friday those benefits had helped Americans weather the crisis but noted they expire in 90 days. “That makes sense,” he said, “it expires in 90 days.”
White House economists said last month there was not yet evidence in the numbers that the supplement was discouraging work, pointing instead to constraints like school closures and child care issues keeping women with children from returning to work, along with a large number of working-age Americans who had not been fully vaccinated. Administration economists doubled down on that reading on Friday.
“It is too soon to conclude that labor supply issues are holding back the long-term path of the recovery,” the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, wrote in a blog post on Friday morning.
Democratic leaders in Congress continued to push for the unemployment benefits to continue as scheduled, and for lawmakers to move to enact the rest of Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda.
“The American people need all the support they can get, especially Black and Hispanic communities that were among the hardest hit by the pandemic,” Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, the chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, said in a news release. “Lawmakers must step up. That includes continuing enhanced UI to support workers seeking jobs and Congress passing President Biden’s Jobs and Families Plans.”