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After shock U.S. jobs data, Republicans and Democrats spar over unemployment benefits

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Miami-Dade County eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease outbreak

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - What did the disappointing U.S. jobs report on Friday say about the state of the world's biggest economy?

As is true for many things in Washington, the answer differs radically depending on which political party you ask.

The Labor Department reported 266,000 new jobs were created in April, a fraction of the nearly 1 million jobs that were expected by a Reuters poll of economists. A drop in temporary help positions put a fresh focus on the generous unemployment benefits that the White House has championed as necessary to keep Americans financially whole as the country recovers from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many Republicans say the disappointing employment report signals that governments at the federal and state levels are being too generous with unemployment benefits, discouraging people from working. Democrats say companies aren't offering high-enough wages, or programs like subsidized childcare to encourage people to go back to work.

"The government pays people big bucks NOT to work so they don’t!," U.S. Representative Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, wrote on Twitter. "DUH! Socialism seems nice but in fact is destructive. America: learn or lose!"

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, an ally of former President Donald Trump who is jockeying to replace fellow Republican Liz Cheney in the party's leadership in the House of Representatives, blamed the jobs figure on "socialist unemployment benefits," saying many small businesses in her New York state district had told her they could not find enough workers.

In a move that could be replicated in other Republican-led states, Montana and South Carolina are ending federal pandemic unemployment benefits pushed by Democratic President Joe Biden for residents next month, saying they are stopping people from working.

Representative Ro Khanna of California and other Democrats blamed companies for not offering to pay workers more.

"Wages have not risen yet and part of the reason people aren't getting back in is that wages haven't adjusted," Khanna told MSNBC, calling on Congress to pass legislation that would more than double the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Khanna also said more support for child care was needed to get women back into the workforce.

"The disappointing April jobs report highlights the urgent need to pass President Biden’s American Jobs and Families Plans," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement, referring to the White House's proposals for about $4 trillion in additional spending on infrastructure, education and other priorities.

The Biden administration's new spending proposals include adding more government-funded childcare, and free universal pre-Kindergarten nationwide.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Heather Timmons; Editing by Paul Simao)