Labor Secretary Martin Walsh said Friday that the Covid-19 pandemic is still weighing on jobs, but predicts optimism about the recovery of the U.S. economy as vaccinations continue.
Walsh’s comments on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” came shortly after the Labor Department released a disappointing April job report that said the number of non-farm workers rose by less than an expected 266,000. Analysts had expected more than 1 million new jobs.
“Under normal circumstances – and we certainly do not live under normal circumstances – a monthly job gain of 266,000 is a good number,” said Walsh. “Unfortunately we are still in the middle of a pandemic.”
“If you look back on the past three months, the US economy has created 500,000 new jobs a month compared to the last three months when it was 60,000. So we are definitely going in the right direction, but we still have a way to go There’s no question about that. We’re still facing a pandemic, “added Walsh.
Walsh rejected arguments by Republican lawmakers and corporate groups that federal pandemic unemployment benefits encourage potential workers to stay on the sidelines.
“I still think we need unemployment, obviously we still have millions of Americans out of work. Many of those Americans have no prospects right now,” said Walsh. “I know we are making a correlation between job vacancies and unemployed people, but it’s not a fair correlation.”
Walsh cited data from the job report showing that more Americans were looking for work in April than in previous months.
“I think if we go further here hopefully in the coming months we’ll see a lot of Americans looking for work, finding work, and I’ll be able to stand in front of that camera and talk about the big wins that are we had, “said Walsh. “But I still think 266,000 jobs this month is a good number.”
Shortly after the job report was published, the Chamber of Commerce issued a statement calling for an end to the $ 300 weekly unemployment benefit. Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the group, said the “disappointing job report shows that paying people who don’t work is dampening the stronger job market.”
Walsh, a Democrat and former Boston mayor, said reducing the rise in unemployment is no novice.
“There are millions of Americans affected by the coronavirus who have lost their jobs. Some of their work is not coming back,” he said. “We lost restaurants. We lost business. I wouldn’t say we are in the middle of a pandemic … but we are still alive and dealing with the pandemic and if we move forward here we will continue to recover . “
Barriers to potential workers include the lack of childcare facilities and schools that remain closed, according to Walsh.
“These are currently two barriers I think are keeping people out of the workforce because their children are at home, studying remotely, or their childcare facility is not open,” said Walsh. “The President has made investments in these areas, but we need to keep making those investments so that people feel like they can go back to work.”
Walsh said there are other reasons Americans have not returned to work at the level analysts expected, but that it cannot be reduced to a single explanation.
“It’s not an easy answer,” he said.