It was a “mission accomplished” moment for President Joe Biden. “Our country is taking whatever COVID has thrown at us, and we’ve come back stronger,” he proclaimed while celebrating a positive jobs report for the start of this mid-election year. -mandate.
“America is back to work,” Biden said. “Today we learned that in January our economy created 467,000 jobs. But that’s not all. We have learned that job growth in November and December from a year ago has been revised up by more than 700,000 jobs.
Biden took substantial credit for himself and said what was needed now was passage of his dormant economic agenda to maintain momentum.
The January jobs report was really good. But the country is not out of the woods yet.
It’s not clear that trillions of dollars in recent federal spending are primarily responsible for what’s good in our economy, or that the accumulation of trillions more in new spending – assuming a 50- 50 could even save much of the Build Back Better program, especially with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin now insisting on regular order – will fix lingering issues.
Inflation is at its highest level in 40 years and is swallowing up nominal wage gains. The US economy is still short of 3 million jobs at its pre-pandemic peak and employers are struggling to find workers. About 4.5 million people left their jobs in November alone. Inflation and labor shortages are a different mix from the stagflation of yesteryear, but not quite a healthy one.
More importantly, we should expect to see robust economic growth and healthy employment reports every month. The economy has been artificially shut down to contain the spread of the coronavirus. It is still in the process of reopening. This reopening in itself should create phenomenal numbers, no matter who is in power, because The Democrats themselves have warned when it started in 2020 and had the potential to benefit former President Donald Trump.
The Biden administration certainly deserves credit for accelerating vaccine distribution. There are other individual policies for which a case can be made, such as the Child Tax Credit. But a reopening economy should be booming.
To a certain extent, it is. We are experiencing GDP growth rates not seen since the Reagan administration, which longtime Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley memorably described as “the seven fat years.” Yet jobs reports are inconsistent and serious underlying economic problems – including too much money for too few goods – remain.
That’s why Biden’s job approval ratings on the economy don’t match the White House celebrations. Nearly 57% of Americans disapprove of his handling of this critical issue, according to the RealClearPolitics Poll Average, with most individual soundings showing it about 20 spots underwater. Other surveys reveal that strong majorities rate the state of the economy as fair or poor.
In downplaying a stock market decline earlier this year, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was relying on other barometers of economic health. She has sometimes suggested that voters don’t look at abstract statistics or frequently quoted metrics.
“Our measure of success is really how real working families are doing – whether they are – have some respite, have a job that offers some dignity and a paycheck. …they can support a family,” Psaki told reporters. “And we’ve seen a lot of progress made on that front.”
Progress, perhaps, especially compared to the height of the confinements, of which the White House is now take this distance. But those data points aren’t very abstract, and many working families will still find them unsatisfactory just over a year into Biden’s term.
Biden’s argument will be that things would be better if he were allowed to do more of the same. It won’t convince many voters, and it could spell big disappointment for those who buy it, as the prospects for progressive legislative news on the economic front look bleak.
Either way, Biden will have to explain why the next $2 trillion can achieve what the last $2 couldn’t, without making inflation worse.
As the original “mission accomplished” man could tell Biden, premature declarations of victory often age badly.
W. James Antle III is the political editor of the Washington Examiner. He was previously editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator and editor of the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Stopped? You can follow the house on Twitter: @Jimantle.