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Remember Reaganomics? Freakonomics? Now there's Bidenomics

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, at the Old Post Office in Chicago.
Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy, Wednesday, June 28, 2023, at the Old Post Office in Chicago.

Bidenomics. It's the term the press (and the White House) are now using to sum up the president's economic agenda.

"Bidenomics...I don't know what the hell that is," Biden said at a union rally this month. "But it's working."

Perhaps it is. Unemployment is low. The economy is growing. But in surveys, voters disapprove of the president's economic leadership.

In a conversation on Morning Edition, host Steve Inskeep spoke with Biden's top economic adviser Jared Bernstein about Bidenomics.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Steve Inskeep: People have had negative views of the economy for a long time. Why are people so dissatisfied?

Jared Bernstein: A lot of it depends on how you ask the question, Steve. I mean, if you ask broad questions, one of the problems you find these days is you immediately tap into a deep well of partisanship. Bidenomics is actually about getting things that are pretty granular done – building the economy from the bottom up and the middle out in a way that we know actually resonates strongly with people.

You find numbers like 76% of voters say they support the bipartisan infrastructure initiative to invest in highways to expand broadband Internet...72% of voters say they support the CHIPS and Science Act, which strengthens supply chains and stands up domestic manufacturing of semiconductors. So I think you get a very different set of results when you actually ask about the specifics of Bidenomics.

What are some of the long-term problems or distortions in the economy that you're trying to address?

One is the sharp increase in inequality. Two is decades of disinvestment in communities and towns and public goods. And three is the absence of competition, a concentration in some of our most important industries, whether it's technology or health care industries that drive up costs for American consumers.

You alluded to low unemployment, which is certainly true. There's another key figure here, which is labor force participation. That's the percentage of people in the country who are working or not. Labor force participation has been increasing during this administration, but it is also historically much lower than it was 15 or 20 years ago. Is that a problem?

In fact, labor force participation of working age people is back to where it was 15 years ago. One of the things we see happening is that this persistently tight labor market is pulling people in off the sidelines. And that's very important.

I'm looking at data from the St. Louis Fed showing that 15 years ago the labor force participation rate was over 66% and now it's down around 60 to a little more than 62.

That's correct. I wanted to avoid going in the weeds, but you're forcing me to do so, which is fine. I appreciate it. One of the things we have in our labor market is older people like me aging out of the job market — the boomers.

You want to take retirees out of the mix when you judge your labor force progress. And to do that, we look at working age people, 25 to 54 year olds.That's just a nice way to control for the fact we have an aging society. Take out some of the older workers and you have the working age labor force participation rate at a 15-year high. And if you're looking at women, it recently hit the highest it's been on record.

Do you expect a recession in the next year?

The way I assess that from here at the Council of Economic Advisers is that it's just very tough to look around corners and forecasters have gotten this wrong consistently. Many people keep saying we're in a recession, we're going to be in a recession. If you look at the indicators of recession, they're just not there.

Do you assume that inflation, which was quite high a year ago, is going to continue drifting down?

Well, certainly the trend has been favorable. And when you have a variable like inflation year over year falling 11 months in a row, know that trend is your friend. And we expect that to continue, but we don't take it for granted.

The audio for this interview was edited by Ally Schweitzer. The digital piece was edited by Lisa Lambert. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).