Biden cites ‘historic progress’ despite modest jobs report

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Biden delivers update on administration's coronavirus response from the White House in Washington

By Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (Reuters) -Unemployment is down and wages are up, President Joe Biden said on Friday, as his administration touted data that left some economists concerned about the U.S. labor market.

“This is historic progress,” Biden said in a speech. “None of this success is an accident. It isn’t luck.”

The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report on Friday showed 559,000 nonfarm jobs created last month, with wages rising, though millions of unemployed Americans remained at home.

Economists polled by Reuters predicted even stronger job growth of 650,000 jobs created in May, and say the factors keeping people from working may include a lack of childcare and generous unemployment checks. Employment is about 7.6 million jobs below its peak in February 2020.

Rising wages are good for workers but threaten employers’ profits and risk sparking paycheck-eating inflation.

“May jobs report is good enough, but not great,” concluded JPMorgan Chase & Co’s Michael Feroli.

Republicans are pushing to cut the unemployment checks, with half of U.S. states, all led by GOP governors, cutting off billions of dollars in unemployment benefits for residents.

“Biden and Democrats are holding back Americans from reentering the workforce and, therefore, holding back our economy,” said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

An extra $300 in unemployment benefits was a key part of Democrats’ stimulus plan enacted in March to help the United States survive the coronavirus recession.

Heather Boushey, a member of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the White House is not pressuring states to take the money because “labor markets are local.”

“We always knew that jobs would start to come back as soon as we wrapped our heads around the pandemic, and those added benefits – many of them expire in September,” she said. “So it’s just a couple more months now that people have access to them, and they provided a really important support for American families.”

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw in Rehoboth Beach and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)