How the WH plans to tackle inflation, and how the Build Back Better bill may ease pressure

New data released by the U.S. Department of Labor Friday show consumer prices are surging at a rate not seen in almost four decades. Inflation is up 6.8 percent in November as compared to last year, due in large part to rising food and energy prices. Judy Woodruff speaks with Jared Bernstein, a member of President Joe Biden's Council of Economic Advisers.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, new data released by the Labor Department today show consumer prices are surging at a rate not seen in almost four decades. Inflation is up 6.8 percent over this time last year, due in large part to rising food and energy prices.

    I spoke a short time ago with Jared Bernstein, a member of President Biden's Council of Economic advisers.

    Jared Bernstein, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, prices climbing at their fastest rate since 1982, how big a problem for the country is this?

  • Jared Bernstein, White House Economic Adviser:

    Well, this is something that the president considers a real challenge to family budgets. Even a moderate amount of inflation, he's mentioned, can be a challenge.

    However, we also have to recognize that we are in the midst of one of the strongest labor market recoveries on record. That's certainly helping to lift people's job opportunities and lift their paychecks. We're talking about unemployment claims that are down to a level we haven't seen since 1969, fasting falling unemployment rates on record, six million jobs since we have gotten here, but, at the same time, price pressures. You're absolutely right.

    And we are doing everything we can, many more levers, actually, that we're trying to pull than I even envisioned, and I have been in this business a long time, from the White House, having to do with our work on the courts, having to do with taking down the price of gas, which actually has come down a bit in the past few weeks — didn't make it into this inflation report — and having to make sure that there's enough competition between companies that savings are being passed forward to consumers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mentioned jobs, and there's no question there is some good news on the jobs front. Wages are up.

    But we now see that these inflation numbers are overwhelming wage increases. They have outpaced them. So, what do you say to people out there who — I mean, polls show people pay more attention to inflation, frankly, than they do to a few more dollars in the paycheck.

  • Jared Bernstein:

    Well, a couple of things.

    First of all, again, this is precisely the kind of challenge that we are focused on with laser energy. The president is instructing his team to do all we can to help ameliorate these pressures.

    Now, when you're talking on the wage side, if you look at the wages of hotel workers, of restaurant workers, of workers in warehousing and transportation, key sectors right now where labor demand is particularly strong, those wages are beating inflation, consistently so. They have done so for a number of months now.

    They are growing faster than inflation, so real wage gains in those sectors. Same for the bottom 25 percent. This is part of the Biden jobs boom. Workers, particularly in low-wage sectors, have a real bargaining power. That's core for Bidenomics. That's something this president believes he came here to help make happen.

    So that's part of what's happening here. At the same time, we have to make sure that those broad-based wage gains evolve for all Americans. And that means we have to try to, again, unsnarl the chains in the supply chain, so that the logistics can flow more smoothly, that goods can flow through the system more quickly.

    Now, we are having some success there. Judy, I don't think I have ever thought more about dwell time in my career, which is the amount of time that a container spends on the port. It's down about a third since we started working with some of the ports in L.A. and Long Beach to help get things from ship to shelf more quickly.

    We talked about some of the gains on the gasoline side. That has our fingerprints on it as well, through the release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. So, there are things we can do. We're doing them. We're going to relentlessly be attacking this problem.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just one other thing I do want to ask you about to come back to. You mentioned Build Back Better. That's sitting in the Senate right now.

    The president says inflation doesn't undercut the need for that. But you know there are plenty of critics out there in both parties who are saying, do we really need to spend…

  • Jared Bernstein:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … trillions more at a time when inflation is rising?

    Even people who are on your side, who worked with you in the Obama administration saying that the administration has just ignored inflation too long.

  • Jared Bernstein:

    Yes, well, I hope that you have captured from our discussion today that we're doing anything but ignoring. We're working as hard as we can to loosen these pressures on American families and on their budgets.

    But I want to unequivocally say here, for the record, that Building Back Better ameliorates price pressures in the long run by helping to build up the economy's capacity for greater labor supply, on the infrastructure plan, through investments and infrastructure. And these will ease long-term inflationary pressures.

    In the near term, Building Back Better does nothing to the current inflation, the things that we're talking about now, these month-to-month prints that we're describing today. What it does do is help cut costs for middle-class and lower-income families, costs in prescription drugs, costs in child care, costs in education, costs in housing.

    Some of the most challenging aspects of family budgets, Building Back Better, helps to ameliorate those costs. It ameliorates near-term costs. It lowers inflationary pressures over the longer term.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jared Bernstein, with President Biden's Council of Economic Advisers, thank you very much.

  • Jared Bernstein:

    My pleasure, Judy.

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