A stronger-than-expected jobs report has put the wind at President Biden’s back ahead of his State of the Union address next week, and it could provide additional momentum as he prepares a reelection announcement in the coming weeks.
Biden on Friday hailed new data from the Labor Department that showed the economy added 517,000 jobs in January, far exceeding economists’ expectations. The president wasted little time connecting the positive development with next Tuesday’s address to the nation.
“Next week, I’ll be reporting on the state of the union. But today, I’m happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong,” he said at the beginning of prepared remarks from the White House.
Unemployment dipped down to 3.4 percent last month, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department.
Analysts were projecting an increase of around 185,000 jobs and for the unemployment rate to edge up to 3.6 percent. In December, the unemployment rate dipped back down to 3.5 percent and the economy added 260,000 new jobs, according to revised figures released Friday.
Employment numbers were also revised up for 2022 by about 500,000 in total and were posted higher for November and December.
Wage growth, while still well above pre-pandemic levels, has now slowed to its lowest annual rate since July 2021. Lower wage growth coupled with stellar job gains and low unemployment is a strong sign for the Federal Reserve as it attempts to quash inflation while avoiding a recession.
Biden noted the unemployment rate was at its lowest point in 54 years, and that job growth since he took office was the strongest two-year period in history. The president took office when unemployment had surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he oversaw the period where many of those jobs wiped out by the virus returned.
The price of gas, food and other goods has come down from its peak last summer, Biden argued, and wage growth has increased without accelerating too rapidly.
“Put simply, I would argue the Biden economic plan is working. For the past two years, we’ve heard a chorus of critics write off my economic plan,” he said. “Today’s data makes crystal clear what I’ve always known in my gut. These critics and cynics are wrong. While we may face setbacks along the way … our plan is working because of the grit and resolve of the American worker.”
Last summer, gas prices were above $5 in parts of the country, economists worried about inflation and the risk of a recession and some Democrats openly wondered if Biden was the right person to lead the party in 2024.
But the past six months have seen Biden’s fortunes turn along with a series of legislative victories and good economic news, capped off by Friday’s jobs report.
The president was already certain to use Tuesday’s speech to tout the economic achievements of the past year, namely the passage of a bill to invest in semiconductor chip manufacturing and the Inflation Reduction Act, which included investments in green technology and provisions to cap health care costs.
Biden has spent the week traversing the northeast to tout infrastructure investments made possible through a bipartisan bill he signed into law in 2021.
Friday’s jobs report provides yet another talking point for Biden as he aims to contrast his agenda with proposals by the newly minted House Republican majority.
With the president widely expected to announce a reelection campaign in the coming weeks, some Biden allies believe the State of the Union provides an opportunity for him to outline the contours of his would-be 2024 pitch.
“I think you’re going to hear a lot about where we were in January 2021 and where we are now and where we need to go,” said Tom Perez, a former head of the Democratic National Committee and Labor secretary and co-chair of American Bridge. “Are we better off now than we were two years ago? Look at the tens of millions of people who’ve gotten [COVID-19 vaccine] shots, look at the job growth. … The reality of the matter is, there’s a real contrast between Republicans and Democrats.”