Biden Has a Historically Strong Job Market. It May Not Be Enough.

President Biden is presiding over a job-creation boom that would have gotten almost any of his predecessors re-elected in the postwar era.

But it may not be enough to win Mr. Biden a second term because of a simple truth about America’s post-Covid economy: Voters appear to care far more about high prices right now than they do about plentiful work.

That’s why Friday’s surprise, blockbuster jobs report was not seen by analysts as a full success for the president as he ramps up his campaign for November. Some economists worried that the hot pace of employment and wage growth would help persuade Federal Reserve officials to hold off on cutting interest rates until after the election. That would be a blow to Mr. Biden, who is hoping to show voters progress in bringing down the cost of mortgages, car loans and other borrowing costs that move with Fed policy.

“The stronger-than-expected May employment report remains consistent with our monetary policy outlook for staying on hold,” economists at BofA Securities wrote on Friday. They said they expected the Fed to begin cutting in December.

The chance that Fed policy could matter for this election is largely a function of the rapid inflation the nation experienced in recent years, as it emerged from the pandemic recession. After two decades of relatively slow price growth, the inflation rate surged to its highest level in 40 years during Mr. Biden’s presidency. It has since fallen toward more normal levels, but remains higher than the Fed’s target rate of 2 percent.

That price growth has muddied Mr. Biden’s jobs pitch. No incumbent president since 1948, the dawn of modern unemployment statistics, has lost a campaign with an unemployment rate as low as the one Mr. Biden now enjoys — 4 percent, a slight increase from earlier in his presidency. (President Lyndon B. Johnson had a lower rate in 1968, 3.5 percent, but he chose not to run.)

No other president has come close over a four-year term to the nearly 16 million jobs that have now been added on Mr. Biden’s watch, including 272,000 in May, according to the Labor Department.

Some Republicans have long argued that Mr. Biden’s job gains were inflated by the rebound from the pandemic recession. The nation abruptly lost 22 million jobs in 2020, under former President Donald J. Trump, and had barely regained half of them by the time Mr. Biden was inaugurated in 2021. But that employment recovery, which had stalled in the months before Mr. Biden took office, re-accelerated after Mr. Biden signed a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus law.

Mr. Biden is now on pace to have overseen more job gains than Mr. Trump did — even if you don’t count the jobs lost and regained from the pandemic recession. The nation has about 6.2 million more jobs today than it did under Mr. Trump on the eve of the recession, with little evidence of slowing despite repeated warnings from forecasters. Mr. Trump saw the economy add about 6.7 million jobs from the end of the Obama administration, before leaving office with a record of net job loss caused by the recession.

Still, Mr. Biden is trailing Mr. Trump in the polls, particularly on his handling of the economy. Surveys show that Americans trust Mr. Trump more to handle prices, by a wide margin, and that inflation remains voters’ biggest economic concern.

Biden aides say they are not surprised that post-pandemic inflation, which has afflicted wealthy nations around the world, is weighing on voters.

“We’ve known since we got here that pandemic economics is a different branch of the profession. It influences everything,” said Jared Bernstein, who chairs the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“It’s beyond question that this is one of the strongest labor markets that we’ve ever seen,” Mr. Bernstein said. “We have to do everything we can to maintain this historically remarkable job market while working to cut costs wherever we can.”

The strength and resilience of jobs gains have surprised many economists. That includes some economists who predicted that it would be difficult to bring the inflation rate down as quickly as the United States has, without a corresponding spike in unemployment that would help cool economic activity. It’s still possible the job market could cool before November, but the gains keep defying expectations.

That has left Republicans searching for novel angles to attack Mr. Biden, even on days when the jobs report beats expectations. On Friday, the Republican National Committee highlighted an increase in part-time jobs and in jobs held by immigrants, and said Mr. Biden was not helping “Americans struggling with “soaring” housing costs, surging electric bills and high gas prices.”

Mr. Biden cheered the report, but with an inflation caveat. In a written statement released while he is traveling in France, the president said: “On my watch, 15.6 million more Americans have the dignity and respect that comes with a job. Unemployment has been at or below 4 percent for 30 months — the longest stretch in 50 years.”

He devoted the entire next paragraph to his efforts to lower costs.

You may also like...