Feb 11, 2022 - Podcasts

President Biden's COVID economy

New data shows consumer prices are up 7.5% over the past year. That's the worst since 1982. The latest inflation numbers are pouring cold water on President Biden's recent wins on job and wage growth. It shows how the COVID economy remains his biggest obstacle, whether real or psychological.

  • Plus, online betting games marketed for kids.
  • And, the highs and lows of the Winter Olympics.

Guests: Axios' Hans Nichols, Erica Pandey and Kendall Baker.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Margaret Talev, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Julia Redpath, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

Go deeper:


MARGARET TALEV: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Friday, February 11th. I’m Margaret Talev in for Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: Online betting games marketed for kids. Plus, the highs and lows of The Winter Olympics. But first, today’s One Big Thing - President Biden’s COVID economy.

New data shows consumer prices are up 7.5% over the past year. That's the worst since 1982. The latest inflation numbers are pouring cold water on President Biden's recent wins on job and wage growth. It shows how the COVID economy remains his biggest obstacle, whether real or psychological. Axios’ Hans Nichols is here to help us understand. Hans, is the economy actually getting better or worse? And does that mean things are getting better or worse for President Biden?

HANS NICHOLS: I guess: Yes and yes, right? The economy's definitely getting better, like, you know, the jobs numbers have been explosive, The White House has been touting those. Those are impressive job numbers, this is an impressive labor market. The problem for them is inflation is soaring. So it means if you get a job or you get a wage increase, it might not mean you’re making more money when you wash it all out. When you have your gas to pay, your groceries to pay. And that's the fundamental challenge that the Biden White House is in right now, is that they're chasing inflation. They're chasing supply chain disruptions, they're chasing shortages and workers and long wait times. And they don't really have a strategy to catch that.

MARGARET: Also, around the country this week, we were seeing Democratic governors ending mask mandates, starting to talk about unwinding vaccine mandates. They're not waiting for Biden. Americans are moving on, and they’re moving on with him. Does it strengthen Democrats and midterm races? Do they have to walk away from The White House and move on on their own?

HANS: You know, it just kind of makes Biden irrelevant, right? If the whole country moves on, on masks and moves on, on testing and vaccines, and Biden's still there claiming that he's following CDC guidance, he's just going to seem a little out of touch. And that's a problem for them, right? If the president isn't leading on the virus, and governors that you and I, up to this point, haven't really heard of become national figures over this, that's not a position The White House wants to be in. And, in part, because if the economy does open up. If we do return to normal, Biden won't get the credit. And that's one thing The White House is banking on. Is that if the economy opens back up, if the weather turns, if we're all outside, pretending like it's 2019, they think Biden should get credit. And if it looks like governors were really at the forefront of this, then it's unclear to me that Biden will actually reap any political benefit for that.

MARGARET: We're about two weeks away from the State of the Union address. There’s one phrase we've been hearing precious little about in the last few days, and that's Build Back Better, BBB, right? Where's that going? How bad do the latest inflation numbers hurt that?

HANS: So you just have to look at how Joe Manchin blasted the inflation numbers. He did a victory lap saying this vindicated everything he was saying about spending too much. I mean, Joe Manchin even turned his guns on The Fed. Blasting The Fed for pumping too much money in the economy. Before they can even, they being The White House, can think about getting Joe Manchin back to the table, Joe Manchin needs to make his peace with The Fed. And so I don't know if that's three, four, or, 40 inflation numbers from now. But no one in The White House thinks that Joe Manchin is in a deal-making mood, even the optimists.

MARGARET: Hans Nichols covers The White House and national politics for Axios. Thanks, Hans.

HANS: Thanks for having me.MARGARET: We’re back in 15 seconds with online betting and kids.


MARGARET: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Margaret Talev, in for Niala Boodhoo. The sports betting industry has been getting bigger and bigger. Americans are expected to bet a record $8 billion on this weekend's Super Bowl. And this comes amid a rapid expansion for apps and games for children that simulate sports and casino betting. Here to explain is Axios’ Erica Pandey. Erica, what are these games, and who exactly are they being marketed to?

ERICA PANDEY: So to get to the big picture, which you kind of got at a little bit, Margaret, the global downloads of social gambling apps, according to one study of Android app data, went from 33 million in 2012 to 1.39 billion in 2020. So there's just a big availability of these apps that simulate bedding and one expert called it like the “modern day Monopoly.” These games are just the popular games of the day. A lot of them are being marketed just as risk-free casino and sports betting games to sort of all ages. But a lot of them are being marketed directly to kids, just like any other game on a social media app or on your smartphone, they simulate sports betting, but they don't use real money. So that's where the game part comes in.

MARGARET: So what's the problem?

ERICA: So the problem is that obviously it is risk-free at face value. I mean, there's no real money involved here, but experts say it's kind of like candy cigarettes. So it's almost like a gateway to real gambling. Studies have shown that kids who are using social casino apps are more likely to gamble for real than their peers who don't use these apps, and it can create the same sort of reward effect that causes addiction when it comes to gambling.

MARGARET: Okay. So I can see how this could become a hot political issue. How likely is a ban?

ERICA: So experts explicitly say that freaking out and banning these games is really not going to get us anywhere. What needs to change is parents treating gambling the way they do drugs and alcohol. And having that talk with their kids in middle school or high school, and saying, here are the risks associated with these things. And making sure that if your kid is getting hooked on it, that you know how to step in.

MARGARET: Erica Pandey is a business reporter and writes Axios’ What's Next newsletter. Thanks, Erica.

ERICA: Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: We're midway through the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. Here to catch us up quick is Axios a sports editor, Kendall Baker. Kendall, you've been watching a lot of Olympics this week. What have been your top highs and lows?

KENDALL BAKER: The obvious highs, particularly for team USA, have been Nathan Chen and Chloe Kim. I think they've been the stars of the team so far, for sure. I thought one of the coolest stories, uh so far was Lindsey Jacobellis. Snowboarder in 2006, she was, you know, runaway, about to win the gold medal and kind of celebrated too early and ended up getting silver. And 16 years later, she wins gold. It was the first, a team USA’s first gold of the Games, which is a really cool redemption story that played out over 16 years, which is just like a lifetime for an athlete. And then I think uh the lows, unfortunately, I think Mikaela Shiffrin stands out. You know, it's kind of unfathomable what's happened with her, just, all time athlete, one of the best in the world. And last mere seconds on our first two races, I think she also has set herself up, though for a really great redemption arch. So those two events left. So rooting for her hard, but that's been a, you know, a big story of the first week for sure.

MARGARET: Kendall, it was revealed this week that Russia's Kamila Valieva, the heavy favorite to win Gold in figure skating, failed a drug test in December. She's 15. Is the story more about the athlete or is it really about Russia?

KENDALL: You know, I think if she was from any other country, it would be about the athlete, but the fact that she's from Russia is absolutely about Russia. I mean, this is, uh, a team that is, uh, in Beijing competing as the Russian Olympic Committee, not Russia, because they're already technically banned from the Olympics. I think even more so zooming out, it's just, it's about the Olympics and the Olympics integrity. I think the fact that Russia was allowed to compete in the last few Olympics was already controversial. And so for this to continue to happen is not a great look for the Olympics, which really value, integrity above all.

MARGARET: What should we look forward to next week?

KENDALL: I'm really interested in hockey. Both men's and women's. On the women's side, the USA and Canada rivalries is awesome. Uh, they've won all of the gold medals in the history of women's hockey at the Olympics. Um, they had a really close match earlier in the games. Um, so that's a really great rivalry to watch. And then on the men's side, the tournament is totally up in the air because NHL players were not allowed to compete this year. So, you know, USA, Canada were favorites. Now, all of a sudden they don't have the NHL players they were supposed to have. They're recruited a lot of college players, so not really sure what's gonna happen there. And so it's a very even kind of random playing field, but I think that's going to make for an interesting, uh, uh, finish.

MARGARET: Kendall Baker is sports editor at Axios. Thanks Kendall.

KENDALL: Thank you.

MARGARET: And that’s it for this week. Axios Today is brought to you by Axios and Pushkin Industries. We’re produced by Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Our sound engineer is Alex Sugiura. Julia Redpath is our Executive Producer. Sara Kehaulani Goo is our Editor In Chief. Special thanks to Axios co-founder Mike Allen. I’m Margaret Talev, Niala Boodhoo will be back next week. Thanks for listening - and have the best weekend.

Every week the ‘Art of Power’ podcast shares intimate, unexpected conversations with changemakers like Barack Obama and Margaret Cho. Listen to WBEZ Chicago host Aarti Shahani and the ‘Art of Power’ wherever you get your podcasts.

A note for our listeners: NBC Universal is the parent company of Peacock. NBC is an investor in Axios.

Go deeper