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Job growth in April falls short, jolts debate over Biden's plans

This morning's jobs report should be a wake-up call to Congress: Biden's American Jobs Plan matters. Approaching the issue with passivity is a mistake.
Image: A help wanted sign is displayed at car wash in Indianapolis
A help wanted sign is displayed at car wash in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020.Michael Conroy / AP file

Expectations headed into this morning showed projections of about a million new jobs added in the United States in April. As it turns out, according to the new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those projections overestimated matters by a large margin.

The U.S. economy gained a disappointing 266,000 jobs last month, despite widespread forecasts that predicted a number that would top 1 million, according to the latest monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.... The unemployment rate rose from 6 percent to 6.1 percent, contrary to expectations but still down from a historic peak of 14.8 percent last April, the highest level since the Great Depression.

It's also worth emphasizing that the revisions from the last few months didn't exactly help matters: February's job totals were revised up from 468,000 to 536,000, but March's totals were revised sharply lower, from 916,000 to 770,000.

To put it mildly, these figures come as an enormous surprise. In fact, I don't imagine I was the only one who looked at the BLS report and thought there must've been a typo. The pieces appeared to be in place for an encouraging total, reflecting a gathering economic boom.

But that isn't what happened. March's previously amazing jobs report suddenly looks far less impressive, and April's totals were more in line with the numbers we saw in January.

This also recontextualizes the political debate in D.C. In recent weeks, many Republicans and other White House detractors have insisted that President Joe Biden's economic plans are excessive and likely to overheat the economy. Those criticisms were dubious before, and they're even harder to take seriously now.

What's more, let's also not forget that Biden has proposed an ambitious infrastructure package, called the American Jobs Plan, which would give the employment landscape a dramatic boost. Congress has been taking its time in working on the details of the legislation, but this morning's jobs report should be a wake-up call to lawmakers: assuming the jobs recovery will grow on its own, and members can approach the issue passively, is a mistake.

Here's the chart I run every month, showing monthly changes in total jobs since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction: red columns point to monthly changes under the Bush and Trump administrations, while blue columns point to monthly job changes under the Obama and Biden administrations.