Washington is closely watching Friday's May jobs report as Democrats look to pass $4 trillion in new spending on top of a $1.9 trillion bill passed earlier this year.
Last month, the U.S. economy heavily missed expectations, adding just 266,000 new jobs, with the unemployment rate rising unexpectedly to 6.1%. Economists had expected the report to show unemployment falling to 5.8%, with 978,000 jobs created.
Economists surveyed by Refinitiv expect Friday's report to show the economy adding 650,000 nonfarm jobs and the unemployment rate falling to 5.9%.
White House officials told Fox News they are not putting too much weight on any one piece of data and are instead focusing on overall economic trends, which they say point to substantial economic progress. The officials said this week they expect "ups and downs" as the U.S. economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The numbers, which are set to be released Friday, will come out as part of two surveys. The current population survey is focused on the unemployment rate and covers the period between May 9 and May 15. The second survey, which will be released at the same time Friday, is a survey of employers, asking how many jobs are in the economy. That survey covers the pay period that includes May 12.
A White House official stressed how rapidly things changed with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic in the month of May – referring to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask guidance, which was released May 13, and most adults becoming fully eligible for coronavirus vaccinations.
The CDC’s guidance says fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear masks indoors or outdoors, or physically distance. The CDC, though, still advises that fully vaccinated individuals wear masks while in crowded indoor settings, such as while riding public transportation and in hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.
A White House official also told FOX Business that vaccinations are strongly associated with job creation and said that while some states expanded vaccination eligibility to all adults in March, all adults did not become eligible until mid-April. The official said that timeline would have had most adults fully vaccinated by May 24 – a period not covered in the jobs report.
The official told FOX Business the White House is focused on the 500,000 jobs created since President Biden took office and said trends in initial unemployment insurance claims have been reduced by nearly 50%.
But the number of available jobs increased to a record 8.12 million during the month of March, the highest in data that dates back to 2000, according to the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS. It marked an increase from the upwardly revised 7.53 million open jobs in February.
But companies have reported difficulties in onboarding new employees, and the report showed that job vacancies exceeded hires by more than 2 million, the largest gap on record. Nearly half – 44% – of small businesses have said they could not fill open jobs in April, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.
Experts have suggested there could be several reasons for the seeming labor shortage, including lack of available child care, fear over contracting COVID-19 or the extra $300-a-week boost in federal unemployment benefits.
But congressional Republicans have argued that the poor jobs numbers from April were due to those expanded federal unemployment benefits offered amid the pandemic.
The federal unemployment insurance benefit, which is set to expire in early September, provides $300 per week to those unemployed in addition to standard unemployment payments, which vary state by state.
But governors are taking matters into their own hands — with 25 Republican-led states moving to opt out of enhanced federal unemployment benefits early in an effort to disincentivize those individuals from staying home and incentivizing them to get back to work. Maryland on Tuesday became the 25th state to announce it will stop the benefit before it lapses on Sept. 6, with Gov. Larry Hogan saying that while the program gave "important temporary relief" during the pandemic, it was no longer needed now that "vaccines and jobs ... are in good supply."
According to data from May Department of Labor records, approximately 2.8 million individuals were receiving the pandemic benefits in the 25 states phasing out the program.
The White House, though, said when unemployment insurance was put in place, it was intended as an emergency bridge through the pandemic and was always intended to be temporary.
A White House official stressed that if someone is offered suitable work, they are required to take the opportunity or they will lose the option of that enhanced federal unemployment benefit.
But Republicans are arguing that regardless of the jobs numbers on Friday, the White House and Democrats will use the data as justification to push forward with Biden’s spending plans — the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.
Biden’s American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan initiatives would invest billions in the nation's infrastructure – including roads and bridges, as well as transit systems, broadband and green energy – and would vastly expand the government's social safety net. The plans would be paid for with a slew of new tax hikes on wealthy Americans and corporations. Combined, the plans are projected to cost nearly $4 trillion.
An April report by Moody’s Analytics, an economic research firm, projected that the U.S. would add 16.3 million jobs through 2030 regardless of Biden’s plan passing. Its study also revealed that Biden’s plan would only truly add 2.7 million jobs if implemented, for a total of 19 million.
Meanwhile, Biden last week proposed raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and discussed his plan to modernize infrastructure and ensure every American has "high-speed internet, building ports, roads and bridges" while interest rates are low.
The Federal Reserve, led by Chairman Jerome Powell, has held interest rates near zero since March 2020 and has repeatedly indicated it will do so until "labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the Committee's assessments of maximum employment and inflation has risen to 2% and is on track to moderately exceed 2% for some time." Powell has stressed that he sees no signs of persistent inflation.
Economic projections from policymakers' last meeting show that most officials expect rates to remain near zero through 2023.
The president’s remarks last week came after a Fox News Poll released last Wednesday revealed voters have mixed views over whether the White House is proposing too much government spending.
When asked about the White House’s proposed increases in spending, 47% of voters say it is too much, while 33% say it is about right and 17% say the spending is not enough.
"Half of voters either approve of Biden’s spending or want more, while about the same portion say it is too much," says Democratic pollster Chris Anderson, who conducts the Fox News poll with Republican Daron Shaw.
"Like so many things in America today, views on the appropriate level of stimulus spending divide sharply based on political affiliations."
Seventy-nine percent of Republicans think Biden’s spending is too much, compared to 42% of independents and 18% of Democrats.
The Biden administration’s three major stimulus proposals total about $6 trillion (the American Rescue Plan, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan).
Forty-four percent believe the administration’s proposals are truly meant to "jumpstart the economy," while slightly more, 47%, think they are intended to "transform the country with liberal social policies."
Overall, 51% feel optimistic about the economy, down from 57% in June 2019.
FOX Business' Megan Henney contributed to this report.