At Donald Trump’s rally in Michigan over the weekend, attendees heard from Republican Rep. Lisa McClain, who made a variety of strange claims, including telling the crowd that the nation’s unemployment rate has reached a “40-year high.”
Even by contemporary standards, this was ridiculous. In January 2021, when President Joe Biden was inaugurated, the unemployment rate was 6.4 percent. Now, it’s 3.6 percent. This is one of the lowest jobless rates of the last half-century — unemployment didn’t reach 3.6 percent at any point throughout the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s — and at no point since the government started keeping track has the rate improved this much over such a short period of time.
In other words, the first-year GOP congresswoman got reality backwards.
It’s possible that McClain struggled to tell the truth because her party’s leadership didn’t offer members much in the way of direction on the issue. After all, the day before the Michigan lawmaker spoke, the public saw the latest evidence of a job market on an amazing hot streak: The U.S. economy added 431,000 jobs in March while the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent.
In fact, our economy has now seen 11 straight months of jobs gains above 400,000 for the first time on record. The economy is far from perfect — inflation remains on consumers’ minds for a reason — but for those rooting for Americans getting back to work, the news is worth celebrating.
It was against this backdrop that House and Senate Republican leaders said ... nothing.
Circling back to our coverage from last month, when GOP leaders were similarly silent, it seemed at least possible leading Republican officials would argue that Democrats don’t deserve credit for the economic recovery. Or perhaps they’d argue that robust job growth was inevitable after the 2020 recession. Maybe they’d even try to say that Trump was somehow responsible for creating economic conditions he had nothing to do with.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy instead ignored the economic news altogether: No press releases, no tweets, and no public comments. They literally found themselves speechless.
As regular readers may recall, it was nearly a year ago when we saw the worst month for job growth since Biden’s inauguration: In April 2021, the economy created 269,000 jobs. Under normal circumstances, that would’ve constituted a great total, but with the country still climbing out of its pandemic-driven hole, the April 2021 report was a disappointment.
Republicans wasted no time in pouncing on the data, blaming Democrats for the disappointment. McCarthy released this press statement soon after the data was released:
“Today’s disappointing jobs report confirms once again that President Biden’s tax-and-spend policies are bad for American workers, families, and small businesses.... Experts are calling this jobs report the ‘worst miss in 23 years’, and it was a direct result of President Biden’s counterproductive policies. So President Biden is not fixing a crisis, but creating new ones.”
In the days that followed, the House GOP leader continued to make a direct connection between the White House’s economic agenda and the U.S. job market. A week after April numbers were released, McCarthy again argued, “President Biden and Democrats will make excuses for this abysmal reality, but the truth is their own massive spending agenda created this problem.”
It wasn’t just McCarthy. The Republican National Committee connected Biden’s policies and job growth over and over and over again. McConnell’s Senate website blamed “persistent unemployment” on Democrats.
There was one important problem with this strategy: It was apparently based on the idea that the U.S. job market would continue to fall short for the indefinite future.
It did the opposite: The economy created over 6.7 million jobs in 2021, which was a record high that surpassed the total number of jobs created across each of Trump’s first three years in office combined. All told, we’re now up to 8.4 million jobs since January 2021 — a total that seemed impossible as last year got underway.
The political problem for Republicans is obvious: If a discouraging monthly jobs report is proof that the Democratic economic agenda is a failure, then several months’ worth of encouraging monthly jobs reports is necessarily evidence that the Democratic economic agenda is a success.
The more GOP leaders say Biden is directly responsible for the nation’s economic conditions, the easier it is for the Democratic White House to take credit when those conditions look great.
It’s okay for Republicans to applaud good news for their own country. When the unemployment rate reached 3.6 percent in the last administration, for example, McCarthy was eager to celebrate. Does he care to explain why he has so little to say now?
Postscript: It’s important to note for context that the Republican National Committee did issue a press statement on Friday morning acknowledging the existence of the latest monthly jobs report. It credited “Republican-led states” for the good employment data.