Remarks on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Report on the Employment Situation in December 2021 and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Well, folks, good morning. I'm going to be somewhat short today because, shortly, you're going to hear a helicopter landing outside the window here. I'm supposed to be in Colorado looking at the damage with the Governor of the—that God-awful firestorm that rolled through. And then I'm heading off to do Harry Reid's funeral.
So—but this morning I want to talk about: I think it's a historic day for our economic recovery. Today's national unemployment rate fell below 4 percent to 3.9 percent, the sharpest 1-year drop in unemployment in United States history, the first time the unemployment rate has been under 4 percent in the first year of a Presidential term in 50 years—3.9 percent unemployment rate, years faster than experts said we'd be able do it. And we have added 6.4 million new jobs since January of last year—in 1 year.
And that's one of the most—that's the most jobs in any calendar year by any President in history. How? How? How did that happen? Well, the American Rescue Plan got the economy off its back and moving again, back on its feet, getting over twenty—200 million Americans fully vaccinated; got people out of their homes and back to work, even in the face of wave after wave of COVID.
We got schools open. We got booster shots. We brought down the poverty rate and went from 20 million people on unemployment rolls a year ago to under 2 million on the unemployment rolls today.
America is back to work, and there are more historical accomplishments. The increase in Americans joining the labor force was the fastest this year of any year since 1996. And among prime-age workers ages 25 to 54, their increase in labor force participation was the biggest in 43 years.
Record job creation. Record unemployment declines. Record increases in the people in the labor force. I would argue the Biden economic plan is working, and it's getting America back to work, back on its feet.
But the record doesn't stop there. Today's report also tells us that record wage gains, especially for workers in some of America's toughest jobs. Women and men who work in the frontline jobs in restaurants, hotels, travel, tourism, desk clerks, line cooks, wait staff, bellmen—they all saw their wages at a historic high, the highest in history. Their pay went up almost 16 percent this year, far ahead of inflation, which is still a concern. Overall, wage gains for all workers who were not supervisors went up more in 2021 than any year in four decades.
There's been a lot of press coverage about people quitting their jobs. Well, today's report tells you why: Americans are moving up to better jobs, with better pay, with better benefits. That's why they're quitting their jobs.
This isn't about workers walking away and refusing to work. It's about workers able to take a step up to provide for themselves and their families.
This is the kind of recovery I promised and hoped for for the American people, where the biggest benefits go to the people who work the hardest and are more often left behind; the people who have been ignored before; the people who just want a decent chance to build a decent life for their families, just given a clear shot.
For them, wages are up, job opportunities are up, layoffs are down to the lowest levels in decades, and there are more chances than ever to get ahead.
No wonder one leading economic—excuse me—analyst described what we've accomplished in 2021 as the strongest first-year economic track record of any President in the last 50 years. Today, America is the only leading economy in the world where the economy as a whole is stronger than before the pandemic.
Now you'll hear Republicans say today that my talking about this strong record shows that I don't understand—I don't understand. "A lot of people are still suffering," they say. Well, they are. Or that I'm not focused on inflation. Malarkey.
They want to talk down the recovery because they voted against the legislation that made it happen. They voted against the tax cuts for middle class families. They voted against the funds we needed to reopen our schools, to keep police officers and firefighters on the job, to lower health care premiums.
They voted against the funds we're now using to buy COVID booster shots and more antiviral pills. I refuse to let them stand in the way of this recovery. And now my focus is on keeping this recovery strong and durable, notwithstanding Republican obstructionism.
Because, you know, I know that even as jobs and families' incomes have recovered, families are still feeling the pinch of prices and costs. So we're taking that on as well. And that's—and the way to do that is not to step back from the economic progress we've made, but to build on it.
I've laid out a three-part plan to address costs families are facing: one, the first part of that plan, fixing the supply chain; two, protecting consumers and promoting competition; three, lowering kitchen table costs, including with my Build Back Better Act.
First, the supply chain. A couple of months ago, we heard a lot of dire warnings about supply chain problems leading to a crisis around the holidays—Thanksgiving and Christmas. We acted. We brought together business and labor to solve the problems. The much-predicted crisis didn't occur. The Grinch did not steal Christmas, nor any votes. [Laughter]
Look, the number of containers sitting on docks for more than 8 days is now down by nearly 40 percent. The number of packages delivered on time was nearly 99 percent. Workers stayed on the job and did the job to bring goods to consumers.
We're continuing our work to speed up every step of this process: the ports, trains, trucking. My bipartisan infrastructure plan—law—included significant investments in each of these areas. And I want to thank the 19 Republicans in the Senate and the 13 in the House who stepped in to help pass it so we didn't have to face another filibuster and lose a very badly needed plan.
The second area: protecting American consumers. In the last few decades, in too many industries, a handful of giant companies dominated the market in meat processing, railroads, shipping. Too often, they use their power to squeeze out smaller competitors, stifle new entrepreneurs, and raise the prices, reducing options for consumers and exploiting workers to keep wages unfairly low.
You see that in your own life. Just look at your grocery bill and the cost of meat. It's not because of cattle farmers getting rich. Matter of fact, it's the exact opposite: It's because fewer processors can charge grocery stores much more money for their ground beef, for example.
You've heard me say it before: Capitalism without competition isn't capitalism, it's exploitation. And I'm determined to end the exploitation.
Later this month, I'll be meeting with my Competition Council—which includes key economic leaders from across my administration—to keep pushing for more broad action and increase competition across our economy, because healthy competition produces lower prices, higher wages, and more dynamic and innovative economies. That makes everybody better off.
Third, I'm working to reduce the largest cost burden of household budgets, costs that don't need to be such a burden. And the biggest weapon in our arsenal is my Build Back Better Act, which will reduce what families have to pay for basic necessities to live a life, raise a family—from prescription drugs, to health care, to childcare—and more help so families can cover the costs of raising their children and caring for their loved ones—their older loved ones.
As we've seen over and over and over again throughout this pandemic, if people can't find affordable childcare, they can't work. Right now there are 2 million extremely qualified women who have not been able to return to work because they can't find or can't afford childcare.
On health care, we've made quality coverage through the ACA more affordable than ever before, with families saving an average of $2,400 on their annual premiums and four out of five consumers finding quality coverage for under $10 [$50]* a month.
And the result? When you reduce the cost of health care, more people can afford to get it. Over 4 million people have gained coverage since I became President. You've heard me say it a million times: Having health care is also about peace of mind. For example, we're going to make it so nobody will pay more than $35 a month for insulin.
Imagine you're a parent and the—one of the 200,000 children in this country have type 1 diabetes: Insulin can cost, on average—it's averaged 650 bucks a month, but can not—cost as much as a $1,000 a month, even though a vial of that insulin costs about 10 bucks to manufacture.
We can do all of this, and we can do it without increasing inflation, without increasing the deficit. Nobody making more than $400,000 a year—less than $400,000 a year will pay a penny more in Federal taxes.
So we're going to keep working on these fronts. Some of them have components that are immediate, like unsticking the supply chain. Some will show their benefits over time, like investments in infrastructure. But all will help America families—America's families. And it's urgent we get moving on all of it without delay.
Because, at this moment, as a country, we face an important choice: Do we take the steps to create an economy with strong sustainable growth, higher wages, and more opportunity for all Americans? Or do we settle for an economy that wasn't working for our middle class, even before the pandemic began, an economy that delivered sluggish growth, stagnant wages, and limited opportunities?
I'm not an economist, but I've been doing this a long time. But here's the way to look at it. If car prices are too high right now, there are two solutions: You increase the supply of cars by making more of them, or you reduce demand for cars by making Americans poorer. That's the choice.
Believe it or not, there's a lot of people in the second camp. You'll hear them complain that wages are rising too fast among the very middle class and working class people who have endured decades of stalled incomes.
Their view of the economy says the only solution to our current and future challenges is to make the working families that are the backbone of our country poorer or keep them in the state they're in.
It's a pessimistic vision, and I reject it. I reject the idea that we should somehow punish people because they finally have a little more breathing room.
America doesn't need to settle for less. We need an economy that has the capacity to generate more growth, more jobs, and more opportunity for all Americans.
That's why we're going to keep doing everything we can to: one, unstick the bottlenecks that are keeping goods from getting to consumers; two, build better infrastructure so that we can get parts and goods to factory floors quicker and cheaper; three, bring more of that production back here to the United States.
To make our supply chain more secure, let's make America—let's make what we're selling in America made in America so we aren't at risk of foreign supply chains and shipping delays and, in doing so, get more Americans working in jobs with rising wages.
Now, I want to be clear: I'm confident the Federal Reserve will act to achieve their dual goals of full employment at stable prices and make sure that price increases do not become entrenched over a long term, with the independence that they need.
But the best way that I, as President, and that Congress, as a legislature, can tackle high prices is by building a more productive economy with greater capacity to deliver for the American people; a growing economy where people have more opportunities, more small businesses opening—and I might add, parenthetically, there's 30-percent increase in the application for new small businesses—and goods get to market faster; an economy where we don't just grow the economic pie to make sure people who bake the pie get a fair slice of it as well.
For too long, Republicans have thrown around terms like "progrowth" and "supply-side economics" to drive an economic agenda that didn't deliver enough growth and supplied more wealth to those who were already—were very well off.
From day one, my economic agenda has been different. It has been about taking a fundamentally new approach to our economy, one that sees the prosperity of working families as the solution, not the problem.
There's never been a time I can think of when the middle class and working class have done well that the wealthy haven't done very well. Working families need to get a fighting chance.
And by the way, the stock market—the last guy's measure of everything—is about 20-percent higher than it was when my predecessor was there. It has hit record after record after record on my watch, while making things more equitable for working-class people.
At the same time, we've created jobs, reduced unemployment, raised wages.
As I've always said: When working people do well, everybody benefits. I'm determined to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out because, when we do, we get more growth, higher wages, more jobs, and over time, lower prices.
But don't take my word for it. Just look at the results, historical results, results for working Americans. Economists call this "increase the productive capacity of our economy." I call it "building back better." That's what we're going to keep doing; we're going to keep building.
I thank you all very much. And I'll get a chance to talk to all of you on Tuesday when I am down in Georgia talking about voting rights.
But thank you.
Q. Mr. President——
Q. Mr. President, should Americans prepare to live with COVID forever, sir? Mr. President, should Americans prepare to live with COVID forever, sir?
[At this point, several reporters asked questions at once.]
Coronavirus Containment Efforts/Increased Testing Tools for the Coronavirus
Q. Is COVID here to stay, sir? Should Americans be prepared that COVID is here to stay?
The President. No, I don't think COVID is here to stay. Having COVID in the environment, here and in the world, is probably here to stay. But COVID, as we're dealing with it now, is not here to stay. The new normal doesn't have to be—we have so many more tools we're developing and continue to develop that can contain COVID and other strains of COVID.
So I don't believe this is that—if you take a look, we're very different today than we were a year ago, even though we still have problems. But 90 percent of the schools are open now. It was 98; it's down to 90, but—is open now—because we spent the time and the money in the Recovery Act to provide for the ability of schools to remain open.
And you know, what we're doing now is, we talked about, you know, how we're dealing with—with testing. Well, you know, we have been doing now—we've had 300 million tests per month so far, and that's 11 million tests a day. In addition to that, we've—we're in the process of ordering 500,000 [500 million]* new tests.
And so, we're going to be able to control this. The new normal is not going to be what it is now. It's going to be better. Thank you very much.
Q. Mr. President—[inaudible]?
Q. [Inaudible]—President Trump?
Q. Any response to——
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:36 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Jared S. Polis of Colorado. He also referred to H.R. 5376.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Report on the Employment Situation in December 2021 and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354049