Washington — Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said Sunday the underwhelming unemployment figures reflecting hiring for the U.S. in April indicates the nation still has far to go to bounce back from the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I think we have a long way to go to recover from the pandemic," Raimondo told "Face the Nation" when asked about the lackluster jobs report released by the Labor Department on Friday. "There are so many American still struggling, 8 million fewer jobs than there were pre-pandemic. So we are working very hard."
While economic forecasters predicted at least 1 million jobs would be added in April due to strong economic growth in the first three months of the year, the jobs report released Friday fell far short of those expectations, with employers adding 266,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate in the U.S. also rose slightly to 6.1%, up from 6%, while the number of people working or looking for work increased by 430,000 people in April.
President Biden on Friday said the disappointing unemployment numbers demonstrated that the nation's economic recovery from the pandemic will be a "marathon," but said the economy is improving "more rapidly than I thought we would."
Republicans, meanwhile, have argued the April jobs report shows weekly supplemental unemployment aid, included in Mr. Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief measure enacted in March, is providing a disincentive for jobless Americans to return to work. South Carolina and Montana, meanwhile, are moving to end the federal pandemic jobless benefits for their residents, arguing the supplemental assistance is contributing to labor shortages.
Raimondo said while the Biden administration is "monitoring" the impact of the benefits, "there is nothing in the data" to suggest the enhanced aid is the reason why jobless Americans are not returning to the workforce.
"When the president moved to make this happen, this unemployment insurance has been a lifeline, a survival lifeline for so many Americans," she said.
Raimondo said the main reason why people aren't returning to work is because of continued fear of the pandemic and an inability to find childcare while schools remain closed for in-person learning.
"If you look nationally, wages aren't going up. People are still telling us the number one reason they're not going back to work is fear, due to the virus," she said. "More people were looking for work last month than the month before."
Neel Kashkari, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, said he believes there is "some truth" to unemployment benefits being an impediment to jobless Americans getting back to work, which is reflected anecdotally and in the data, though he echoed Raimondo in pointing to childcare shortages and continued fear of becoming infected with the coronavirus as other factors keeping people out of the labor market.
"The good news is over the next three or four months, each of those factors should get better as the vaccine continues to penetrate, as the virus continues to show down, schools reopen and people regain their confidence," Kashkari told "Face the Nation." "Those things should get better, which should lead to strong growth in the second half of the year and strong labor market recovery, I hope."
Raimondo said the Biden administration is focused on working with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pass the president's $4 trillion infrastructure and families plans, as Mr. Biden is calling for "bold action to meet the moment."
"The reality is we have fallen behind with our investments in the economy, and people are still struggling, women in particular, still struggling to find affordable childcare, to break down some of the barriers necessary to find a job, to have access to the skills they need to get a good job," she said.
While the president has said his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan will create millions of jobs and lead to economic growth, Republicans take issue with the costs and scope of the two packages. Mr. Biden is poised to meet this week with a group of Republican senators to discuss his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.