Apr 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Worker shortage thwarts Biden’s “millions” of jobs pledge


Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden's campaign pledge to create "millions" of jobs has hit a challenge: finding workers.

Why it matters: Job potential from building out clean energy and "onshoring" — bringing home — overseas manufacturing hasn't panned out or has been overstated. His words have been more political statement than governing result.

Driving the news: Ten states recently hit the lowest unemployment rates they've seen since the Bureau of Labor and Statistics began keeping track of individual state data in 1976.

  • In February 2020, before the pandemic, unemployment was at 3.5%. The current rate is only slightly higher, at 3.6%.
  • The labor force is on track to grow only about 0.3% a year in the coming decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, compared to over 1% as recently as 2005.

Higher immigration levels would increase the labor supply, but that's a politically fraught issue.

  • If the administration were to focus its attention on importing labor, it would surely face a domestic backlash that it doesn't value American workers.
  • Talk of the administration lifting Title 42 — the Trump-era public health order both administrations have used to stem the influx of immigrants — has already stirred opposition among Democrats arguing for continued border controls.

What they’re saying: “It sounds good in political conversation, ‘onshoring,’ and how international corporations have somehow stolen jobs from American corporations," Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, told Axios in an interview.

  • "But, it’s totally inconsistent with where we are now."

What we’re watching: Some Democratic operatives have wondered whether the job-creation promise will indirectly force the White House to focus on reforming the immigration system — for the migrants it does admit — as a means of filling any labor shortage.

  • A White House official pushed back on the premise, arguing the administration’s primary goal is to get as many Americans as possible back to work.
  • The official, who requested anonymity, did concede the administration values immigration and continues to champion its reform.
  • The U.S. is also in the middle of a “great upgrade,” the White House official pointed out to Axios.
  • The White House predicts people will continue seeking opportunities for higher wages and better treatment.

But, but, but: There's been a concerted, bipartisan approach to bring the production of semiconductor chips, used in cars, among other things, to the United States.

  • That will only create several thousand positions, though — not the millions the president's promised.
  • Additionally, the demand for these chips is a “roller coaster,” Hufbauer explained.
  • And while the demand is high right now, it takes two to three years to build the factories to produce them. It’s unclear if the demand will remain the same in 2023 — or the election year following it.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to state that the current unemployment rate is 3.6% (not 3.8%).

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