Moreover, AP reports, “Fifty-four percent say the country is on the right track, higher than at any point in AP-NORC polls conducted since 2017; 44% think the nation is on the wrong track.” Approval on the economy (before last Friday’s job numbers) was 57 percent, although his approval among independents is 47 percent (versus 50 percent disapproval).
It is safe to say that dramatic results regarding covid-19 — whether measured in the decline of cases and deaths, the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated or the reopening of schools, businesses and other venues — have produced overwhelmingly positive poll numbers. But economic improvement, while considerable, has not been as stunning. The United States remains about 8 million jobs in the hole since the beginning of the pandemic, and women in particular have been forced out of the workplace because of to caregiving demands. It should surprise no one, then, that the president’s approval on the economy is strong but not eye-popping.
The administration’s reaction to the gain of 266,000 jobs in April reflects its keen awareness that economic success is essential to Biden’s and Democrats’ support. On Monday, the Treasury Department announced relatively lax guidelines for states and localities to use $350 billion in American Rescue Plan funds. The rules provide for “broad flexibility to decide how best to use this funding to meet the needs of their communities,” including use for public health expenditures, rehiring public sector workers, small business assistance, premium pay for essential workers and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. (Allowing localities to make a down payment from existing funds on infrastructure might allow the White House more flexibility in negotiating the dollar amount for the American Jobs Plan.)
In remarks made on Monday, Biden reiterated the Treasury Department’s release of state and local funds and announced guidance so states can “provide over 800,000 families subsidies to pay for childcare” and to “help working parents get back to work.” He also reaffirmed the existing rule that unemployed people must be actively looking for work and cannot turn down work to receive benefits. Most noteworthy was his bit of political jujitsu in responding to Republican claims that job numbers were weaker than expected because unemployment benefits are too high:
The last Congress before I became president gave businesses over $1.4 trillion in covid relief. Congress may have approved that money, but let’s be clear. The money came from the American people and it went from the American people to American businesses. Many of them big businesses to help them get through this pandemic and keep their doors open. I’m not questioning. It was the right thing to do. But my expectation is that as our economy comes back, these companies will provide fair wages and safe work environments. And if they do, they’ll find plenty of workers, and we’re all going to come out of this together better than before.
In other words, Biden has turned the tables on employers grousing that they cannot find workers: Pay a decent wage and they’ll get plenty of workers. After all, they got a ton of taxpayer money expressly to keep people on payroll.
Biden seems eager to take up the debate with Republicans. “Americans want to work,” he said. “I think the people who claim Americans won’t work even if they find a good and fair opportunity underestimate the American people.” Given that supply chains have yet to rev up, that many Americans still face child-care problems and that stimulus money have yet to flow through the economy (e.g., support for restaurants), Biden is betting his measures as well as the continued progress on vaccinations will push hiring forward. He has also made a calculation that ridiculing workers as moochers is bad politics. He better be right — Americans’ economic future and his only political fate depend on it.