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Biden touts economic 'comeback' in election-year pitch to skeptical voters

President Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.
Shawn Thew/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
President Biden delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Thursday.

Updated March 7, 2024 at 11:03 PM ET

President Biden used his State of the Union address Thursday to highlight economic progress, eight months ahead of an election which will test voters' confidence in his economic stewardship.

"I inherited an economy that was on the brink," Biden told a packed chamber at the U.S. Capitol. "Now our economy is the envy of the world."

Polls show many voters disapprove of Biden's handling of the economy, despite strong job gains, low unemployment and faster GDP growth than many forecasters had expected.

Inflation has also cooledsignificantly since hitting a four-decade high in 2022. But high prices remain a source of frustration for many voters and a potential liability for the president.

The White House says lowering costs for working families is a top priority.

"We're cracking down on corporations that engage in price gouging or deceptive pricing from food to health care to housing," Biden said.

What the White House is doing

The president also highlighted his administration's efforts to combat hidden fees levied by banks, hotels and other businesses.

"I'm saving American families $20 billion a year with all of the junk fees I'm eliminating," Biden said.

The president accused Republicans of catering to wealthy business and individuals. His upcoming budget will propose higher corporate tax rates — a nonstarter in the currently divided Congress.

"A fair tax code is how we invest in the things that make a country great: health care, education, defense and more," Biden said. "The last administration enacted a $2 trillion tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits the very wealthy and the biggest corporations and exploded the federal deficit."

Biden's perception problem

Surveys by the University of Michigan show that consumer sentiment about the economy has improved in recent months, as inflation moderated and the stock market hit record highs. So far, though, that hasn't given a boost to the president's approval ratings. An average of polls from Real Clear Politics shows only about 4 in 10 people approve of Biden's handling of the economy.

"The president proudly proclaims Bidenomics is working! Bless his heart. We know better," said Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, who gave the official Republican response to Biden's speech. "Hardworking families are struggling to make ends meet today. And with soaring mortgage rates and sky-high childcare costs, they're also struggling to plan for tomorrow."

Wages have been climbing faster than prices for most of the last year, but workers have not yet fully recovered from the spike in inflation two years ago. The average worker's real buying power is slightly lower now than it was when Biden took office, although inflation-adjusted wages are higher than they were before the pandemic.

How the job market looks

Biden touted the strong job market, which has kept the unemployment rate under 4% for two full years — the longest such stretch since the Vietnam War.

Employers added more than twice as many jobs during Biden's first three years in office as they did during the comparable period under former President Donald Trump. The comparison looks worse for Trump if you count his final year in office, when the pandemic threw millions of people out of work. Trump was the only president since Herbert Hoover to leave the White House with fewer jobs in the U.S. than when he took office.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.