© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden holds news conference at the White House in Washington
By Dan Burns
(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said the economic outlook is brightening thanks to the recent passage of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, and a majority of economists now expect growth this year to exceed six percent.
“Since we passed the American Rescue Plan, we’re starting to see new signs of hope in our economy,” Biden said during his first press conference since taking office in January. “Since it was passed, a majority … of economic forecasters have significantly increased their projections on the economic growth that’s going to take place this year. They’re now projecting it will exceed 6% growth in GDP (gross domestic product).”
Indeed, that may understate how quickly the economy may grow this year as COVID-19 vaccine rollouts gather pace, allowing greater freedom of movement and activity, and as the stimulus bill boosts consumer spending.
Just last week, Federal Reserve officials signaled they expect growth of 6.5% this year, which if achieved would mark the fastest expansion since the 1980s, and some private forecasters have predicted the economy will grow in excess of 7% this year. That would mark a dramatic upward swing following the 3.5% contraction suffered in 2020, the steepest annual downturn in more than seven decades.
The first-term Democrat also pointed to signs of a recovering job market. The number of Americans filing first-time claims for jobless benefits fell below 700,000 for the first time since the pandemic triggered a deep recession roughly one year ago.
“Just this morning, we learned that the number of people filing for weekly unemployment insurance fell by nearly 100,000 persons,” he said. “So there are still too many Americans out of work, too many families hurting, and we still have a lot of work to do, but I can say to the American people help is here, and hope is on the way.”
Biden went on to tout the infrastructure plan he is developing as a force for filling the massive holes remaining in the job market.
Roughly 9.5 million fewer Americans were working as of February than before the pandemic hit. Biden’s economics team is targeting a long-term plan in the range of $3-$4 trillion geared to repair crumbling roads and bridges, upgrade aging schools and invest in green technologies, which he said would help get many of those displaced workers back into jobs.
“How many schools where the kids can’t drink the water out of the fountains? How many schools are still in a position where there’s asbestos? How many schools in America are we sending our kids to that don’t have adequate ventilation? How many schools, buildings, office complexes are wasting billions of barrels of oil over time because they can’t hold in the heat or the air conditioning because it leaks through the windows that are so porous?” Biden asked rhetorically.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “There is so much we can do that’s good stuff, makes people healthier and creates good jobs.”
He dove into a litany of shortcomings in U.S. infrastructure that he said need addressing: 20% percent of flights were not on time because of shabby airports, six to 10 million homes in America still have lead pipes servicing their water lines, and there are over 100,000 well heads leaking methane.
“What are we doing?” Biden said. “We can put as many pipefitters and miners to work capping those wells at the same price that they would charge to dig those wells.”
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