Biden cites economic gains, but voters see much more to do

Biden cites economic gains, but voters see much more to do.

WASHINGTON, TGO: Seven months before he faces a critical test from voters in the midterm elections, President Joe Biden is turning his focus to kitchen-table issues as he struggles to get credit for a recovering economy.

Since Biden took office last year, job growth has been vigorous and steady — as he told the country Friday after the March jobs report showed the addition of 431,000 jobs and the unemployment rate falling to a low 3.6%. But those same remarks were also tempered by his recognition that food and gas prices are too high and inflation is at its worst level in a generation. For Biden, convincing Americans of the progress made in the economic recovery only serves as a salient reminder of how much further the country has to go.

“Our economy has gone from being on the mend, to being on the move,” Biden said, even as he acknowledged Americans are not ready for a victory lap. “I know that this job is not finished: We need to do more to get prices under control.”

At times, Biden’s bifurcated messaging — like the state of the economy itself — can seem like a jumble of contradictions. It leaves voters to piece together their own opinions — potentially to the president’s political peril.

Record wage gains of 5.6% over the past year, for example, run up against consumer prices that have risen at 7.9% annually. Biden’s announcement this past week of plans to release a million barrels of oil daily from the U.S. strategic reserve over the next six months was a recognition of the harm that inflation can have not just on the economy but his own policy ambitions.

The economic discontent is reflected in Biden’s standing in public opinion polls.

Roughly 7 in 10 people in the United States describe the economy as being in poor shape, while nearly two-thirds disapprove of Biden’s economic leadership, according to a March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Administration officials and Biden allies happily point to the job creation data as a sign of accomplishment but they are also perturbed by the lingering economic malaise that threatens him with a historically inhospitable environment for a president’s party in a midterm year.

They have advised Biden to spotlight his work to bring down gas prices and forthcoming efforts to try to curtail an increase in food prices from the war raging in the world’s breadbasket of Ukraine.