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Unemployment has remained below 4% for 23 months, but more Americans are struggling with credit card debt and needing second jobs.
As President Joe Biden enters the final year of his first term as president, top economic adviser Jared Bernstein said Biden deserves credit for keeping the U.S. economy on track coming out of the pandemic.
Bernstein, who now chairs the Council of Economic Advisers, provided his thoughts on the U.S. economy during the debut of Scripps News' afternoon program "Main and Wall."
His optimism stands in contrast to polling in which more than 2 out of 3 Americans said in December that economic conditions in the U.S. are getting worse, according to Gallup.
While inflation is a top reason why many Americans are apprehensive about the economy, the U.S. job market ended 2023 on a strong note as 216,000 jobs were added to the economy during December, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.
The unemployment rate remained low and stable throughout the year as well. December's unemployment rate finished at 3.7%, marking the best year-end unemployment rate since 1969.
The unemployment rate has remained below 4% for 23 consecutive months, the longest such streak since October 1967 through December 1969.
Bernstein said the numbers reflect Biden's preference to keep unemployment low.
"The economic adviser who goes in to talk to President Biden who says, 'Sir, we're gonna have to fix this problem by hurting people in the workforce. This is gonna have to come out of the wallets of middle-class families like the one you grew up.' That's not the way he believes the economy should move forward," Bernstein said.
"He thinks that if we have a tight labor market that is low unemployment — which we've sustained below 4% unemployment for 23 months in a row, almost two years — and we can ease inflationary pressures, we ought to be able to keep this recovery going. And that's precisely what happened."
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But Bernstein acknowledged some of the more troubling warning signs in the economy, including rising credit card debt and the number of Americans working two jobs. As of December, there were 8.5 million Americans working multiple jobs, an increase of about 500,000 workers.
Bernstein chalked these figures up to the economy normalizing itself after the COVID-19 pandemic. Bernstein countered that Americans' disposable incomes have risen 4% the last year, government data shows.
"Those measures are kind of coming off the mat and kind of getting back to where they were pre-pandemic," he said. "So, thus far, I don't think there's a particularly worrisome trend there."
Bernstein's interview comes as Republicans in Iowa go to caucus sites to decide who should oppose Biden in November's general election. The economy, as it always is, will be a key theme in this year's election.
Bernstein gave his pitch on how President Biden plans to campaign on the economy despite shaky economic polling.
"If you're helping to bake the pie, you ought to get a fair slice," Bernstein said. "I think that's pretty simple and it's pretty straightforward. That has always informed his economics and I think there's real consistency moving from who he was, who he is and the agenda we plan to pursue going forward. I think what's maybe kind of different now is the opposition. This president has worked very hard, and I think successfully, not out of the woods, more work to do, but successfully to lower costs for American households."
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