Sperling Says Jobs Act Might Have Put U.S. Unemployment Below 8%

Sperling Says Jobs Act Might Have Put Unemployment Below 8%
Job seekers wait in line to enter the Dr. King career fair in the Brooklyn borough of New York, on April 12, 2012. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The U.S. unemployment rate might now be below 8 percent had Congress adopted all of President Barack Obama’s legislative proposals, one of his economic advisers said in an interview.

Gene Sperling, White House director of the National Economic Council, said Republicans rejected Democrat Obama’s plans to provide money to prevent teacher firings and increase infrastructure spending, according to a transcript of his interview with CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” scheduled for broadcast tomorrow.

“Just think about how much stronger the job market would be” if these two initiatives had passed, Sperling told Zakaria. “We’d be knocking on the door of going under 8 percent, being into the 7 percent range on unemployment and making much further progress.”

Republicans and Democrats are trading blame for the government’s inability to get more people back to work, an issue that may decide which party captures the presidency in November. Sperling’s comments coincide with evidence this month and last that the job market is weakening after showing earlier signs of recovery.

On April 12, the Labor Department reported that jobless claims had increased 13,000 in the week ended April 7 to 380,000, the highest level since late January. The median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey called for 355,000 claims.

Unemployment stood at 8.2 percent in March, when U.S. employers added 120,000 jobs, less than the most pessimistic estimate in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. The rate, also reported by the labor department, had fallen to 8.3 percent in February from 9.1 percent last August.

Tax Credits

In the American Jobs Act, a $447 billion initiative released last September, the Obama administration proposed cutting the payroll tax for most businesses, extending unemployment benefits for 5 million people who were looking for work, and providing tax credits for the hiring of unemployed veterans. Congress eventually took these steps while rejecting other measures in the legislation, including spending to prevent teacher dismissals and create jobs through infrastructure development, Sperling said.

The economy created 2.1 million private sector jobs last year, a performance that would be “solid in most other contexts,” Sperling told CNN. The problem, he said, was that “we started from a very, very deep hole” created by the worst recession since the Great Depression.

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