Latest Jobs Data Hints at a Slowdown That President Biden Needs

Gradually slowing job gains and a growing labor force in March delivered welcome news to President Biden, nearly a year after he declared that the job market needed to cool significantly to tame high prices.

“This is a good jobs report for hard-working Americans,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement on Friday morning.

But analysts warned that the coming months could bring a much more rapid deceleration in hiring, as banks pull back on lending in the wake of the government bailout of depositors at Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. Such a scenario would be a challenge for the president and his team as they seek to help the economy stabilize without falling into recession.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote Friday that he expected job gains to fall to just 50,000 in May, from 236,000 in March, and for the economy to begin shedding jobs on a net basis over the summer. But he acknowledged that the job market continued to surprise analysts, in a good way, by pulling more and more workers back into the labor force.

“Labor demand and supply are moving back into balance,” Mr. Shepherdson wrote.

In May of last year, Mr. Biden wrote that monthly job creation needed to fall from an average of 500,000 jobs to something closer to 150,000, a level he said that would be “consistent with a low unemployment rate and a healthy economy.”

Since then, the president has enjoyed a complicated relationship with the labor market. Job creation has remained far stronger than many forecasters — and Mr. Biden himself — expected. That growth has delighted Mr. Biden’s political advisers and helped the economy avoid a recession. But it has been accompanied by persistently high inflation, which continues to hamstring consumers and dampen Mr. Biden’s approval ratings.

Still, the president has toured the country championing jobs created by laws he signed that invest in infrastructure, low-emission energy and semiconductor manufacturing, even as inflation, while slowing, has remained well above historical norms.

The March report showed the difficulty of that balancing act. Analysts called the cooling in job and wage growth welcome signs for the Federal Reserve in its campaign to bring down inflation by raising interest rates.

But that cooling included a decline of 1,000 manufacturing jobs, for which some groups blamed the Fed. “America’s factories continue to experience the destabilizing influence of rising interest rates,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a trade group. “The Federal Reserve must understand that its policies are undermining our global competitiveness.”

And Republicans blasted Mr. Biden for falling wage growth. “Average hourly wages continue to trend down even as inflation has wiped out any nominal wage gains for more than two years,” Tommy Pigott, rapid response director for the Republican National Committee, said in a news release.

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