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Jobs report shows gains, but is it good news for the economy?

The pace of hiring in the U.S. picked up in May, but Friday's good-but-not-great jobs report is prompting some to ask why workers are still holding back, even as businesses across the country reopen to something close to pre-pandemic levels. Brian Deese, the Biden administration's director of the National Economic Council, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We dig in now to today's U.S. jobs report and broader questions about the economy.

    I spoke a short time ago with Brian Deese. He's the Biden administration's director of the National Economic Council.

    Brian Deese, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    Let's talk about that jobs report today, 559,000 jobs created in the month of May. It's twice what we saw in April, but it was still less than what some, if not many, economists predicted. Does that temper the celebrating Americans should be doing?

  • Brian Deese:

    I think this job report is really good news for the economy and good news for the American people.

    We have seen now consistent job growth of about 500,000 jobs a month over the last four months, which is the strongest job growth we have seen in quite a long time. In the three months prior, we were averaging job growth at about 60,000 a month. So we have seen a significant pickup.

    And we saw — the good news was that that job growth was broad-based across sectors and industries. And also, importantly, wages increased. They increased last month. They increased this month again. That's good news, good news for American workers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me ask you about the economy broadly speaking, because, if you look at all the indicators, still relatively high unemployment rate, even though we know companies are clearly saying they can't find enough workers. Some of them are.

    You have prices rising for some goods and services, but not for others. You have a supply chain problem. Do you put that together? And does it give you a clear picture of the strength of this economy? Or are you as confused as some other people say they are?

  • Brian Deese:

    Well, I'd start with some perspective.

    This economy is growing at the fastest rate in nearly 40 years. We saw 6.4 percent growth in the first quarter, and we're seeing projections now for the year of close to 7 percent. We haven't seen that type of growth in America for nearly 40 years.

    You combine that with a solid 500,000 jobs, on average, growth a month, and you see an economy that's growing strongly, a labor market that's recovering. At the same time, we're in an unprecedented situation. We're coming out of a historic economic crisis and a pandemic.

    And so there's a lot of uncertainty. There's some dislocation. Certainly, we're seeing demand coming back faster than anticipated in some sectors. And that's creating some supply chain bottlenecks and discontinuities.

    And so this was never going to be a straight line. And we will continue to have to work through those issues. But the trend line is clear that the economy is improving rapidly. And we believe that that's in part based on an economic strategy that the Biden administration is driving and President Biden is driving about how to grow this economy from the bottom up and the middle out.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one of the things that's happening as a result of all this is higher prices.

    And speaking of that, it's been reported the president made a call in the last few weeks or days to the former Treasury secretary, Larry Summers, who has been writing opinion pieces expressing his disagreement with the size of the president's what he calls very big plans on jobs, infrastructure, so-called Families Plan.

    And, also, Larry — Larry Summers saying he's worried about high prices staying there. Did he — did the president come away from that changing his mind about anything?

  • Brian Deese:

    I'm not going to speak to private conversations the president had.

    What I can tell you is, where the president is focused and where we are all focused is on driving an economic strategy that is working right now to drive historically strong economic growth, historically strong job growth.

    We are seeing some temporary dislocations and some temporary price increases. But most of that is being driven in sectors like airlines and hotels and leisure, where we're seeing demand come back from very, very low levels during the pandemic. And so the bottom line here is, we have got an economy that's recovering rapidly.

    We're seeing Americans are actually finding jobs. Their wages are increasing. That's a good thing. That's a good thing for the American worker. And while there are these short-term mismatches that we think we will be able to work through, overall, the president has a strategy that is different from his predecessor's, that is actually about driving economic growth from the bottom up, making sure that an economy is actually delivering good jobs and wage increases for Americans broadly.

    We think that strategy is working. And we think that we can double down on that now by investing for the long term.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, one of the things that Larry Summers and, frankly, some Republicans are saying is that, instead of spending new government money on the president's ambitious plans, you ought to take some of the unspent COVID stimulus money.

    Is that something the president's looking at?

  • Brian Deese:

    Well, I'm glad you raised that issue, because it goes to the core of, where is that money that we invested — that we're investing from the Rescue Plan actually going?

    First, they went out and direct checks to American families. A lot of the reason why there's more demand and more optimism, frankly, among the American people is because 167 million checks, $1,400 checks, went out to people.

    Another place it's going is to schools. One of the things we saw in this month's job report, 100,000 new education jobs at the state and local level, in part because we invested in schools and getting schools open, teachers getting back on the job. Schools are open. That gives parents more flexibility.

    We're investing in childcare centers, so that we can create more childcare options for parents as they go back to work. In each of these areas, they're connected to real, tangible needs that our economy needs. And it's a plan that was designed to keep this support going, because this wasn't going to be a straight line. And we're going to have some bumps in the road.

    So we're very confident that this — these are resources that are doing a lot of good for the economy and will continue to do a lot of good. And, frankly, we have a lot of fiscal space to invest in longer-term economic objectives in a way that actually we can do without reducing — without increasing the deficit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Last thing to ask you about are the talks the president's been having with the Republicans' chief negotiator on infrastructure, legislation. She is Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

    We know they had a conversation again today. Is progress being made?

  • Brian Deese:

    Well, the president and Senator Capito had a conversation this afternoon. And Senator Capito introduced some new ideas.

    But we're not at a place where the proposal that is on the table is something that is consistent with what the president believes we need to grow the economy, to sustain this economic growth, create good jobs, fight the climate crisis. So, the president and Senator Capito agreed they will speak again on Monday.

    He's going to keep reaching out and keep engaging. But we're not at a place where the proposal on the table is something that would work for the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ah, so not enough yet.

    But, finally, it's been reported that the president offered in their earlier meeting this week, instead of raising the corporate income tax, to establish a corporate — a minimum corporate income tax. Is that something they're still talking about? Is the president looking at other compromises?

  • Brian Deese:

    Well, the president's been raising in his conversations with Republicans a whole range of commonsense ways to pay for these proposals.

    He remains committed to reforming the corporate tax code, including raising the corporate tax rate. But there are other elements of his plan, including the one you mentioned, to establish a minimum 15 percent rate that all corporations pay to try to address this issue that, today, there are dozens of Fortune 500 CEOs, profitable companies, that pay zero in taxes.

    The other issue he raised was tax enforcement, not actually raising tax rates on anyone, but just making sure that high-income people and corporations pay the taxes that they already owe. These are ideas he thinks makes a lot of sense. He continuing to raise them with Republicans.

    And we're hoping that these are the kind of areas that we could find common ground on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're going to leave it there.

    Brian Deese, who chairs the president's National Economic Council, thank you.

  • Brian Deese:

    Thanks, Judy.

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