Unemployment Rates

Biden bets strong job market will shield economy from slump

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy faces many threats: war in Ukraine, high grocery bills, soaring gasoline prices, shattered supply chains, a lingering pandemic and rising interest rates that slow down growth.

The Biden White House is betting that the US economy is strong enough to withstand these threats, but voters and some Wall Street analysts are increasingly concerned about a coming economic meltdown.

The next few months will test whether President Joe Biden has built a sustainable jobs-filled recovery with last year’s $1.9 trillion relief package, or an economy supercharged by government aid that could tip into a slow-down. The question for Democrats ahead of the midterm elections is whether voters see first-hand in their lives that inflation can be brought under control and the economy can manage to heat up without overheating.

Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters this week that last year’s 3.6% unemployment rate and robust growth put the United States in a safe place relative to the rest of the world.

“The central question is whether the strength of the US economy is now an asset or a liability,” Deese said. “What we’ve done over the past 15 months is driving an exceptionally strong economic recovery in the United States, which positions us uniquely well to face the challenges ahead.”

But others see an economy that may struggle to sustain growth while reducing inflation which currently sits at a 40-year high of 7.9%. The Federal Reserve has signaled a series of benchmark interest rate hikes and other policies to curb inflation this year, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has destabilized global energy markets and of food in a way that could drive up prices.

Deutsche Bank on Tuesday became the first major financial institution to predict a recession in the United States. And Harvard University economist Larry Summers – a Democrat and former Treasury secretary – noted that the US economy has gone into recession in two years every time inflation eclipsed 4% and the unemployment was less than 5% as it is now.

Joe LaVorgna, who worked in the Trump White House and is now chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, said he expects economic growth this year to be just below 1%, a level potentially dangerous.


With household balance sheets strong and unemployment low, wages are not keeping up with inflation, which could dampen consumer spending. And supply chain disruptions and higher energy costs will be additional drags.

“The reason you have a recession when the economy is growing 1% is it’s like a weakened immune system,” LaVorgna said. “Any negative event, however small, is going to throw you off course and the stall speed becomes a recession.”

Still, due to the strength of the labor market and household savings, LaVorgna also expects any downturn to be moderate.

So far, consumer spending has been healthy, although the public views the economy as anemic.

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans think the economy is in bad shape, according to a poll last month by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Still, Bank of America noted that total debit and credit card spending in March was up 11% from a year ago, and its analysts concluded that households are “strong enough to weather the storm.” provided that it does not persist too long”.

There are also signs that consumers are adjusting, as higher oil prices pushed the average gasoline price to $4.15 a gallon, according to AAA. Gas prices fell last week, but are still up 45% from a year ago.

One of the consequences of rising prices is that Americans have started to use less oil and gas. The United States consumed a daily average of 21.9 million barrels in the first full week of February; the figure fell 9% to 19.9 million barrels in the first week of April, according to the Energy Information Administration. This decline is larger than the normal seasonal decline in 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. Gasoline consumption fell by more than 6% during the same period.

A recent research note from Goldman Sachs stood out to Biden administration officials because it suggested job growth and wage increases would shield the economy from rising commodity prices. Due to the strength of the labor market, the economy is better protected from commodity shocks than during the recessions of 1974, 1980 and 1990, as well as the financial crisis of 2008.

The White House has watched with some frustration as the public conversation about the economy has been reduced to inflation, saying it largely ignores the strength of the labor market and the idea that families are capable of handling higher prices. high due to coronavirus relief provided earlier.

The administration believes that the Fed’s rate hikes as well as a decline in deficit spending this year will help reduce inflation. But the key message the White House wants to send in response to public fears about the economy is that Biden understands their concerns.

The challenge, however, is that many Americans are so focused on inflation that they think the job market — and the broader economy — is weaker than it actually is. This means the White House must present a nuanced case in which it acknowledges economic weaknesses but repeats the low unemployment rate again and again so that it lodges in the minds of the public.

Doubts about the economy — despite strong jobs numbers — are “a signal that we need to continue to make this case clearly and unambiguously,” Deese said.