WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden celebrated the strong jobs report Friday, crediting his Covid-19 relief package and an increase in vaccines for the promising forecast, but he warned that progress on the economy could be undone.
"In the face of this great news, I need to also make this clear and direct statement to the American people: The progress we have worked so hard to achieve can be reversed," Biden said in a brief speech at the White House.
The Labor Department reported that the U.S. economy added 916,000 jobs last month, the largest gain in seven months, and that the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, down from 6.2 percent in February. The March report is a hopeful sign that the the labor market could finally be clawing its way back to pre-pandemic levels.
But Biden warned that rising Covid-19 case numbers and the premature easing of health guidelines could risk another surge in infections and force sectors of the economy to shut down again.
"We still have a long way to go," Biden said, urging people to continue to practice social distancing and wearing masks.
Biden also used the March employment numbers, which outperformed economists predictions, to make the case for his $2 trillion jobs plan, his next big legislative push. The American Jobs Plan, which Biden unveiled on Wednesday, would revamp the country's infrastructure and create millions of jobs.
"As we get the economy back on his feet, we need to do the hard work of building back better — for good, not just for a while, but for good," Biden said.
Biden said he would start to hold meetings with Democrats and Republicans after the Easter weekend to discuss his American Jobs Plan. He indicated that he was willing to negotiate on his proposal, saying that "debate is welcome, compromise is inevitable" but "inaction is not an option."
While Biden said the March job numbers were a reflection of an increase in vaccines and the American Rescue Plan, he also said the progress was thanks to the resiliency of the American public.
Biden has been careful throughout the first few months of his presidency to advertise his administration's achievements while avoiding coming off as overly self-promotional during a time of crisis, especially after President Donald Trump was criticized for doing so.
In an effort to strike the right balance, Biden has leaned on other members of his administration to help communicate to the public what he is doing to improve their lives. Vice President Kamala Harris and other officials traveled around the country in recent week as part of the "Help is Here" tour to promote the Covid-19 relief plan. And Biden announced Thursday he was enlisting five Cabinet members to engage with the public on his American Jobs Plan.
Biden and other Democrats have said that President Barack Obama did not do enough to take credit for the 2009 stimulus package and paid a political price for that in the midterm elections.
"We didn’t adequately explain what we had done. Barack was so modest," Biden told House Democrats in early March. "I kept saying, 'Tell people what we did.' He said, 'We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.' And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility."
Still, when asked Friday how much credit he personally took for the March jobs numbers, Biden said: "I am giving credit to the American people."