The labor market mess awaiting Joe Biden

This May 7, 2020, file photo shows a man wearing a mask while walking under a Now Hiring sign at a CVS Pharmacy in San Francisco. | Jeff Chiu, File/AP

Updated: 11/25/2020 08:54 AM EST

President-elect Joe Biden will inherit one of the weakest labor markets in U.S. history, with record-high unemployment, widening inequality and deteriorating economic conditions.

Yet many of the solutions he’s offering — massive infrastructure, clean energy and technology investments — will need the approval of a largely hostile Congress. That could undercut one of the central goals of his presidency: to come to the rescue of the nation’s ailing workforce, rocked by widespread layoffs during the pandemic shutdowns.

A potential crisis will greet him before he even enters the Oval Office: An estimated 12 million people will lose their jobless benefits at the end of the year without another aid package from Congress. There are also early signs that the labor market is backsliding, as the number of people seeking unemployment aid has started to rise again after weeks of declines.

Last week, workers filed another 778,000 new applications for jobless benefits, an increase of 30,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department reported Wednesday. More than 20 million people are currently receiving unemployment benefits.

“Biden’s going to be very constrained in what kinds of economic policies he’s going to be able to legislate,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s going to have the ability to implement the proposals he’s put forward to get us back to full employment more quickly.”

After meeting with business and labor leaders on Nov. 16, Biden said an infusion of relief money and a national strategy to address the coronavirus would get the economy revving again after a “dark winter.” He vowed to create millions of new union jobs through vast spending programs.

“These are the kinds of investments that are going to strengthen our economy and our competitiveness, create millions of jobs, union jobs and doing so, or respect the dignity of work, and empower the voice of workers,” Biden said.

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