Week in politics: Jobs grow; Biden to release reserve oil; logs missing on Jan. 6
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Here in the United States, job growth continues at a record pace. Four hundred and thirty-one thousand jobs were added in March. Unemployment fell to 3.6%. That is the lowest since the pandemic began. NPR's Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.
SIMON: What do you see as being behind these strong numbers?
ELVING: It's a strong economy - surprising, in view of where we were in 2020, in the depths of the pandemic. The jobless rate then was nearly 15%. That was two years ago this month. Now it's less than 4% - all the way down to 3.6 this past month, as you say. It's getting to be routine for the economy to add 400,000 jobs or more each month. And all this, of course, also means rising wages and greater mobility for workers in general.
SIMON: President Biden was quick to take credit for the jobs report. Here he is at the White House yesterday.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Our policies are working, and we're getting results for the American people, which is what it's all about, to state the obvious. Record job creation, record unemployment declines, record wage gains.
SIMON: So there's a lot of good numbers in the statistics, but not in the president's approval rating in public opinion polls, where people seem to be upset with his performance in office and specifically on the economy. Why?
ELVING: Well, in a word, it's inflation. Now, we are seeing rapid increase in prices, not just for energy, but also for groceries and food and across the board. Most everything depends on energy to some degree, and that's making it harder for working families to enjoy this emergence from the pandemic. Voters in general are just less likely to give a president credit for the good news, like the jobs numbers, and more likely to blame the president for the bad news, such as gas prices and inflation. And so it's always easier to be the party out of power appealing to people who feel aggrieved and perhaps unseen.
SIMON: And let me ask about gas prices. The president announced that the U.S. would release one million barrels of oil a day from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try and increase supply. Will that do the job, though?
ELVING: Strategic Petroleum Reserve can make a difference, but it's hard to say just how soon that's going to show up at the pump. Biden himself admitted as much. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader - always helpful - called it a drop in the bucket and said it wouldn't make any difference at all. And, you know, this is only going to amount to a tiny fraction of daily oil consumption in the United States. At the same time, at the same time, it does matter what happens at the margin. So Biden can say maybe, eventually, it's half a buck a gallon, if we get lucky, but it's not likely we're going to see the pre-pandemic prices again. And the biggest hopeful sign here is that it models a behavior for other countries that have been even more reliant on Russia, and other countries in the International Energy Agency have joined the effort, although we don't know exactly how much of their reserves they're going to release yet.
SIMON: Biden administration is lifting Title 42. That was the emergency public health order that let officials turn people away at the border, including those claiming asylum. This is a decision that could have a substantial practical and political impact, especially in border states.
ELVING: Absolutely. It means that a lot more people are going to be coming into the country. It's been a trickle during COVID, comparatively speaking, and we're something like, well, expecting peak periods of the past again. Biden chose to keep the restrictive policy in place that had been put there by Trump. He cited the - of course, the public health emergency of the pandemic. Technically, this was up to the Centers for Disease Control to decide, and until now, it was politically an easy way for the government to manage illegal immigration without a full-blown legislative reform that's proven so very difficult for Congress to do. So you've got a lot of moderate Democrats, especially in border states, especially in purple states that could go either Republican or Democrat in November, worried that their communities will suddenly be overwhelmed and that they won't be able to absorb the new influx and that that will hurt their reelection chances in the fall.
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
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