Strong jobs report shows the American economy gaining steam

As the White House tries to manage rising inflation, the U.S. labor market is bouncing back, adding another 431,000 jobs in March and bringing the unemployment rate to a new pandemic-era low of 3.6 percent, according to the latest jobs report from the Labor Department. Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, joins Geoff Bennett to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, unemployment numbers are now back to pre-pandemic levels. But the economic recovery is not being felt by all.

    With me here is Geoff Bennett.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Thanks, Judy.

    The jobs numbers today were a bit of good news for a White House that is simultaneously trying to manage rising inflation. The country's labor market is bouncing back, adding another 431,000 jobs in March, and bringing the unemployment rate to a new pandemic era low of 3.6 percent. That's according to the latest jobs report from the Labor Department.

    Now, even though the job gains were lower than what many economists had expected, they still made for a strong first quarter for the U.S. labor market, with an average monthly gain of more than half-a-million jobs.

    Joining us now is deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, Bharat Ramamurti.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    And we should say, this jobs report is one that any White House would welcome. March was the 15th straight month of major job gains. The economy is now just 1.6 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020, before the pandemic hit.

    When this — when you look at this report, what do you see as the bright spots and where do you see areas of improvement?

  • Bharat Ramamurti, Deputy Director, White House National Economic Council:

    Well, there's a lot of news, good news coming out of the jobs report today, as you said, another very strong month for job gains overall, over 400,000 new jobs, the unemployment rate dropping to 3.6 percent, which, by historical standards, is one of the lowest on record.

    Other good news under the hood, though. For example, labor force participation, which is the percentage of workers who are looking for work, or who have a job, has gone up significantly among prime age folks. That's folks between the ages of 25 and 54, which means people are being attracted back into the labor market.

    Labor force participation for women went up significantly as well. The Black and Hispanic unemployment rates continue to fall. So, a lot of good news in today's report, both at the headline level and under the hood.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    That said, though, the White House is grappling with this disconnect.

    You have this undoubtedly positive jobs report, and — but there is this perception about the way many Americans really experience the strength of the economy, given everyday concerns about the cost of gas, the cost of groceries.

    How is the White House trying to close that gap between the jobs report on paper and the way that it's being felt across the country?

  • Bharat Ramamurti:

    Well, look, the president has been clear that he grew up in a family where, when the cost of gas went up, when the cost of the grocery bill went up, he felt it. So he understands that families are feeling that pinch.

    And, for months now, he has been laser-focused on doing what he can to bring those down. Now, look, at a starting level, we should note that inflation is a global phenomenon. Countries across the world are dealing with record high levels of inflation. And on top of that, now we have the inflationary impact of Putin's war in Ukraine.

    But just this week, we have seen a lot of progress. The Senate, for example, passed a bill just this week that would reduce the costs of ocean shipping. So, all those goods that come from abroad to the United States, the costs of those will go down as shipping costs go down. We saw the Senate pass a bill that would manufacture more semiconductors, more chips here in the United States, which should help reduce the cost of cars and other electronic items.

    And we have seen progress on agriculture to bring more competition to those industries, to help bring down the cost of meat and other products at the grocery store. So, we're chipping away at this problem surely and steadily. And it's the president's number one focus.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Want to ask you about wage growth, because, looking at this latest jobs report, it looks like the wage growth has been experienced, for the most part, among white-collar workers, people who have office jobs, people who, for the most part, were able to save some money during the pandemic because they didn't have to commute as far or as much.

    But it's people at the lower end of the economic spectrum who are still struggling. President Biden, as you well know, he laid out a host, a whole domestic agenda aimed at helping, he says, working-class Americans, but that agenda has stalled on Capitol Hill.

    So what's the backup plan? What's the plan B that the Biden administration is going to pursue to help working-class Americans?

  • Bharat Ramamurti:

    Well, first, the data suggests that folks at the lower end of the income spectrum have actually seen by far the largest wage gains so far.

    Folks who work in leisure and hospitality, manufacturing, working in warehouses and so on, they have seen the largest wage gains since the pandemic began and since this president took office. And we're glad to see that. Those are folks who have — are long overdue for a raise.

    Second of all, the president's economic plan has focused on delivering relief to those at the middle of the income spectrum and the lower end of the income spectrum. The checks that he provided, the tax cuts he provided for families with young children, all of that was targeted at folks with middle income and low income.

    So, if you look at the net effect of all of that, folks in the middle, middle-class families in the United States have more income than they did going into the pandemic. And we're glad to see that.

    That said, the president's push is for Congress to act on a number of areas where costs are squeezing families, prescription drugs. The United States is one of the few countries where we don't negotiate the cost of prescription drugs. And that's raising costs for families across the income spectrum.

    Child care is a huge cost for many families. The cost of college, the cost of housing, those are all issues that the president is trying to tackle, and he's urging Congress to act.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    In the minute we have left, I want to ask you about what has many folks on Wall Street concerned. Some analysts say that there are flashing signs of a recession. They're pointing to the yield curve inversions. We don't have to go into that.

    But, from where you sit, do you share those concerns of a potential recession the horizon?

  • Bharat Ramamurti:

    Well, look, the data shows that the economy right now is extraordinarily strong, 3.6 percent unemployment. We're coming off the year with the highest economic growth that we have had in 40 years. And the signs for the first quarter of this year are also very, very strong.

    Of course, we are looking at every data point very, very carefully, and making sure that there are no warning signs, that we're getting out ahead of any problems. And, of course, the issues — the war in Ukraine is creating additional headwinds for the economy across the globe. And we're carefully monitoring that.

    But the bottom line is that the economy's in a very, very strong position. And it's a credit to the president's bottom-up, middle-out economic recovery plan.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Bharat Ramamurti is deputy director of the White House National Economic Council. We appreciate your time this evening.

  • Bharat Ramamurti:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, thank you for that report, Geoff.

    And you are about to launch "PBS News Weekend" from here in Washington. It's this weekend.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The whole team hard at work. Tell us a little bit about it.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes, we have been hard at work for weeks. It feels like longer than that. But it's a great team. I'm excited to be part of this team that's picking up the baton and sort of retooling and relaunching this weekend broadcast.

    It'll be a mix of hard news coverage, of feature interviews. In fact, we're going to hear from Sheryl Lee Ralph, the star of "Abbott Elementary," on Saturday. And then, on Sunday, we will hear from Daryl Hall about his new solo album.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very cool.

    We are so excited. The news continues on the weekends.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Geoff Bennett:

    That's true.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Geoff Bennett, we look forward to it.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Thank you. I appreciate that.

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