Biden urges economic confidence despite inflation challenge

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President Joe Biden touted the state of the U.S. economy following a better-than-expected May jobs report, even as he acknowledged its likely to be overshadowed by record-high inflation that’s causing pain for Americans.

“I know that even with today’s good news, a lot of Americans remain anxious, and I understand the feeling,” Biden said Friday from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

He added, “There’s no denying that high prices, particularly around gasoline and food, are a real problem for people. But there’s every reason for the American people to feel confident that we’ll meet these challenges.”

Nonfarm payrolls increased 390,000 last month after a revised 436,000 gain in April, a Labor Department report showed Friday. The unemployment rate held at 3.6 percent, and the labor force participation rate crept higher.

The report suggests the economy continues to power forward as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates at a steep pace to tame red-hot inflation.

May job growth exceeded the median estimate of 318,000 in a Bloomberg survey of economists. The report shows the labor market, while remaining tight, may be transitioning to more moderate growth from the major increases seen in the immediate aftermath of Covid-19 lockdowns.

The figures may give some comfort to Biden and his fellow Democrats as they try to defend their thin congressional majorities in the November midterms.

Biden has routinely pointed to booming job growth as evidence that his economic policies have helped lift the U.S. out of its pandemic downturn.

“America has achieved the most robust recovery in modern history,” he said Friday, adding that the job market was the strongest it has been since World War II.

But the president’s political standing has taken a beating as the hottest inflation in four decades, high fuel prices and supply-chain snags have affected Americans’ ability to purchase everyday products and contributed to a baby formula shortage that data indicates is worsening despite the administration’s efforts to combat it.

Rapid price gains have far outweighed plentiful jobs in polls of Americans that show unhappiness with the economy and disapproval of Biden’s performance.

Biden traveled to Rehoboth Beach late Thursday to spend a long weekend at his beach house there with first lady Jill Biden, whose birthday is Friday.

“I understand that families who are struggling probably don’t care why the prices are up; they just want them to go down,” Biden said Friday.

The president again sought to shift responsibility to Republicans who — along with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia –have stalled his economic agenda in Congress.

“I’m doing everything I can on my own to help working families during this stretch of higher prices,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do that. But Congress needs to act as well.”

He again targeted a proposal by a senior Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, that includes requiring all Americans to pay some federal income tax.

Despite Democrats’ attempts to link the plan to Republicans, it has very little support in the party. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has said “it’s not the Republican plan.”

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel seized on the site of Biden’s remarks to reprise GOP criticism of the president’s handling of the economy.

“While Joe Biden is on his beach vacation, families cannot afford the most basic essentials,” McDaniel said in a statement. “While real wages are down, gas prices are at record highs, inflation is skyrocketing, and parents can’t feed their kids.”

With the summer driving season under way, soaring gasoline prices remain a political liability for Biden, who has endeavored to boost energy supplies to replace Russian output following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

U.S. gasoline futures settled at a fresh record of $4.19 a gallon on Thursday, as pump prices also hit a new high.

The Saudi-led OPEC+ cartel agreed Thursday to a modest oil production increase in July and August, a gesture that was welcomed by the Biden administration.

Asked about OPEC+ move Friday, Biden said called it a positive development but said he didn’t know if the increase in output would be “enough.”