By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden took shots at his likely 2024 rival, former President Donald Trump, on Monday in a Labor Day speech aimed at shoring up support in a state he needs to win next year to retain the White House.
A self-described champion of labor unions, Biden addressed union workers in Philadelphia as he sought to explain his economic policies to a public worried about the economy, despite easing inflation and low unemployment levels.
“It wasn’t that long ago we were losing jobs in this country,” Biden said ahead of a parade marking the U.S. Labor Day holiday. “In fact, the guy who held this job before me was just one of two presidents in history who left office with fewer jobs in America than when he got elected.”
Economic issues are likely to play a critical role in the 2024 presidential race, a likely rematch between Biden and Trump.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed that the economy, unemployment and jobs remained Americans’ top concern. A full 60% of Americans, including one in three Democrats, said they disapproved of Biden’s handling of inflation, according to the poll.
Republicans say that Democratic policies helped spark the rise in prices, making Americans pay more for rent, groceries and gasoline under Biden’s watch.
The Fed has raised rates by 5.25 percentage points since March 2022 and the 30-year mortgage rate now stands above 7%.
Biden played up his record of job creation during his administration and took a dig at Trump, saying jobs were being shipped to China under the Republican president and Trump’s presidency saw jobs shrink in America.
Some of the workers shouted “four more years” as the president came to stage. Workers and their young children nibbled on pretzels and snow cones.
The Laborers’ International Union Local 57 shirts read “We rebuilt Interstate 95 in 12 days,” referring to their work to restore service to a thoroughfare after part of it collapsed in June during a truck crash and fire.
U.S. job growth picked up in August, but the unemployment rate jumped to 3.8% from 3.5% and wage gains moderated, according to last week’s Labor Department data – signs the labor market is cooling in response to the central bank’s rate hikes.
The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, however, has moved down to 3.3% from its peak of 7% last summer. Although the decline was a “welcome development,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said late last month, inflation “remains too high” and the Fed might need to raise interest rates further.
In an opinion piece published ahead of Labor Day in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Biden highlighted his administration’s proposal to extend overtime pay to some 3.6 million Americans and praised unions for being good for the economy.
Pennsylvania is one of a handful of politically competitive states that fluctuate between supporting Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections.
Biden earlier told reporters he thought it was unlikely that the union representing the three big U.S. automakers would strike later this month.