Yellen says job market still “in a deep hole” with “a long way to dig out”

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Washington — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Sunday that the job market is “stalling” and there is a “long way to dig out” as the nation continues to grapple with the economic fallout from the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“I’m afraid that the job market is stalling,” she said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “We saw that in Friday’s unemployment report, just 6,000 private-sector jobs created, 49,000 overall, and that’s after a month in which we actually saw job loss. We have 10 million people unemployed, 4 million have dropped out of the labor market and another 2 million are working part time who really would like full-time work. We’re in a deep hole with respect to the job market and a long way to dig out.”

The coronavirus crisis has wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy, leaving millions out of work as businesses were forced to shutter or scale down their operations in response to state and local directives designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 6.3%, from 6.7% in December, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Friday.

To address the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, President Biden has put forth a $1.9 trillion aid package that, if approved by Congress, would provide $1,400 direct payments to those under a certain income level, boost assistance for the unemployed and provide more funding for small businesses, among other issues.

Last week, the House and Senate each took the first step in a legislative process that would allow the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass Mr. Biden’s plan without Republican support, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

While the president has vowed to provide $1,400 stimulus checks to Americans, some Democrats have called for monthly “survival checks” of $2,000 to households affected by the pandemic. Debate also continues as to whether the $1,400 checks should be more targeted to lower-income households, and Mr. Biden has said he’s open to narrowing who receives the checks to ensure they go to those most in need of help.

Yellen said the direct payments shouldn’t go to “very well-off families” that don’t need the money and haven’t been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, but noted for a police officer or elementary school teacher making $60,000 or $65,000 per year, it’s “appropriate” they could use the assistance to address financial burdens.

“It has to go to people in households that do need the money and those are lower income households,” she said. “We need to make sure that the cutoffs are appropriate so that households that are doing really well, that maybe have seen their stock portfolios rise and make a lot of income and haven’t lost their jobs, those households shouldn’t be getting it.”

Yellen added that Mr. Biden’s relief plan will do a “huge amount” to create jobs.

“The spending it will generate is going to lead to demand for workers, help put people back to work, especially when we can get vaccinations and the public-health situation to the point where the economy can begin to open up again,” she said.

Yellen also said the $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments included in the Democratic proposal will ensure public-sector workers can keep their jobs.

“We’ve seen already 1.3 million workers fired off state and local payrolls because of shortfalls that they have in revenues and they have mandates to balance their budgets, and this plan provides funds for state and local governments to be able to re-employ and hang on to their first responders, policemen, firemen and other essential workers,” she said.

Yellen pledged that once Congress approves a coronavirus relief package, there will be more legislation to help the economy rebound.

“There will be another bill that addresses job creation through infrastructure development, through investment in people and education and training, addresses climate change, improves the competitiveness of our economy and is designed to create good jobs with good pay,” she said. 

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