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President Biden stressed the sunny side of a disappointing jobs report on Friday, touting an unemployment rate that fell below 5 percent for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, while conceding he would like to see more rapid job creation in the months ahead.
“When you take a step back and look at what’s happening, we are making real progress,” Mr. Biden said. “Maybe it does not seem fast enough. I would like to see it faster, and we’re going to make it faster.”
The president sought to take credit for continued progress in the labor market under his watch, including wage gains and job creation — and, at the same time, said the state of the economy shows the need for trillions of dollars in new spending and tax cuts that Democrats are trying to pass through Congress.
The Labor Department reported on Friday that the economy added 194,000 jobs in September, well below consensus forecasts for about a half-million jobs. It was the second consecutive month of disappointing job gains. Analysts blamed the weakness in part on a wave of infections from the Delta variant of Covid-19, which peaked nationwide in early September, and in part on statistical quirks of the pandemic’s effects on school reopening. Mr. Biden noted that cases have fallen sharply since the report’s data was collected.
Mr. Biden has for months attempted to make a nuanced, jobs-focused case for his plans to invest in physical infrastructure like roads and water pipes, paid leave, expanded public education, care for children and older and disabled Americans, and more, which are currently contained in a pair of bills that have not yet passed the House.
“We need to stay focused on what these goals will mean to the people who are just looking for a little bit of breathing room,” Mr. Biden said, and a “fair chance to build a decent middle-class life, to succeed and thrive instead of just hanging on by their fingernails.”
He has sought to both claim credit for the nearly five million jobs the country has created since he took office, while arguing his plans would create more — and better-paying — jobs in the future.
At the same time, economists both inside and outside of Mr. Biden’s administration have struggled to explain why so many available jobs in the country remain unfilled. Employers have a record number of job openings and a litany of complaints that they cannot find qualified workers even after raising their wage offerings.
The president did not address that issue on Friday.
Republicans have said for months that expanded unemployment benefits, including a $300-per-week supplement from the federal government for unemployed workers, have kept people from returning to work. But there was little evidence of a hiring surge this summer in states that moved to cancel the benefits early. The benefits lapsed in September for all states that had maintained them — and Mr. Biden’s team saw little sign on Friday that the expiration had boosted employment.
“This report shows that the unemployment extra benefit had no impact at all, in keeping people out of work,” Martin J. Walsh, the labor secretary, said in an interview. “And I think that we’re all trying to struggle to find what the right answer is” to why workers are not flocking to open jobs.