It’s been a challenging stretch for Joe Biden. His agenda has been stalled on Capitol Hill, his poll numbers are flagging, and his party just got a bad omen in Tuesday’s off-year election. But his week is ending on a bit of good news that should, among other things, demonstrate the importance of his more aggressive strategy to beat back the coronavirus pandemic.
The Labor Department on Friday announced that the economy added 531,000 jobs in October, a major improvement over the previous month and a reflection, it seems, of the improving COVID situation in the United States. “This is the kind of recovery we can get when we are not sidelined by a surge in COVID cases,” Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed, told CNN.
In September, with the delta variant raging across much of the country, the U.S. added only 194,000 jobs, well short of expectations. The significant rebound in Friday’s report underscores the extent to which America’s economic recovery remains linked to the pandemic. Cases have sharply declined nationwide in recent weeks, and there have been reasons for optimism with the expansion of booster shots and the opening up of vaccinations to kids as young as five. Biden touted the strong economic numbers Friday, but warned that further gains required continued progress against the virus. “For our economy to fully recover,” Biden said in remarks on the jobs numbers Friday, “we need to keep driving vaccinations up and COVID down.”
Biden—who also renewed calls for Congress to pass his infrastructure plans, saying the bills would lower the inflation that has nagged an otherwise improving economy—is about to get even more assertive in his vaccination push. On Thursday, he announced that his administration would require companies of more than 100 employees to mandate inoculation or frequent testing by January 4—a plan that will cover about two-thirds of the U.S. workforce, according to the White House. “While I would have much preferred that requirements not become necessary,” Biden said Thursday, “too many people remain unvaccinated for us to get out of this pandemic for good.”
That drew a fresh round of right-wing outrage, and several red states, which tend to have lower vaccination levels, launched a legal fight against the new rules. But the jobs numbers would seem to support Biden’s argument that such mandates are not only necessary as a public health measure, but to continue economic recovery. “They help send people back to work,” Biden said. “They make our economy more resilient in the face of COVID and keep our businesses open.” The COVID situation is, of course, unpredictable. But measures that could continue to drive down infections, hospitalizations, and deaths—and the promise of new treatments like the pill Pfizer said on Friday greatly reduced serious COVID outcomes—could keep boosting economic optimism.
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