Biden Labor Secretary: Closed schools 'keeping people from getting back in the workforce'
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Labor Secretary Marty Walsh drew a parallel Friday between the continued fight over reopening schools for in-person instruction and the April jobs report, which fell far short of experts' predictions.
The economy gained 266,000 new jobs in April, bringing the unemployment rate to 6.1%.
Experts had estimated 1 million new jobs in April with a 5.8 percent unemployment rate – a missed mark that Walsh attributed to school and childcare facility closures.
"Those are two barriers right now, in my opinion, that are keeping people from getting back into the workforce," Walsh told CNBC on Friday. "Because their children are at home, they’re learning remotely or their childcare facilities aren’t open."
"There have been investments made by the president in those areas," he continued. "But we need to continue to make those investments so that people know that they can go back to work."
The labor secretary's comments come after revelations that the nation's largest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers, was in regular contact with the CDC ahead of the agency releasing its guidance on reopening schools.
Walsh’s overall attitude toward the jobs report was optimistic.
"Under normal circumstances — and certainly we are not living in normal circumstances — a 266,000 job gain a month is a good number," Walsh said.
"If you look back on the last three months, the United States economy has added 500,000 new jobs per month as compared to the previous three months, where it was 60,000," he continued. "So we are definitely going in the right direction, but we still have a ways to go, there’s no question about it. We are still dealing with a pandemic."
In response to the report, GOP business groups and lawmakers suggested removing federally-funded pandemic relief for unemployment support in an effort to push more people back into the workforce.
But Walsh rejected this suggestion and said it was "not a fair correlation."
"The positive sign in this report is more Americans looked for jobs in the month of April than they had in previous months," he said. "Hopefully in the coming months we are going to see lots of those Americans that are looking for jobs, finding jobs, and I’ll be able to stand in front of this camera and talk about the great gains we’ve had."
President Joe Biden echoed Walsh’s stance Friday, telling reporters the economy is "moving in the right direction," and that it is improving "more rapidly than I thought we would."
Biden reminded reporters that the American Rescue Plan was designed to help Americans recovering from the economic downturn of the coronavirus pandemic over the course of a year, and not in the two months since it was enacted.