WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused U.S. President Donald Trump of failing to feel the economic pain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, after data on Friday showed job growth slowing and a widening racial gap in unemployment rates.
The former vice president, pushing a campaign message that he is more in touch with working Americans than his rival in the Nov. 3 election, said the economic crisis has exacerbated divisions between the rich and the poor.
“The painful truth is, we just have a president who just doesn’t see it, he doesn’t feel it, he doesn’t understand, he just doesn’t care. He thinks if the stock market is up, then everything’s fine,” Biden said during a speech in his home base of Wilmington, Delaware.
As both campaigns kick into high gear for perhaps one of the most consequential presidential races in recent U.S. history, the Labor Department reported that nonfarm payrolls increased by 1.37 million jobs last month, fewer than in July.
Trump and his fellow Republicans highlighted the fall in the unemployment rate in August to 8.4% as a sign that the economy is improving after the shock from coronavirus lockdowns that have devastated small businesses from restaurants to gyms and hair salons.
Yet the president still looks set to head into the election with the economy crippled and serious questions hanging over his handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 186,000 people in the United States.
Biden, who held a seven-percentage-point lead over Trump nationally in the Reuters/Ipsos poll this week, called on the president to bring congressional leaders together to restart stalled negotiations for another coronavirus economic relief package.
“Bottom line: Mr. President, do your job. Get off your golf course and out of your sand bunker. Call your leaders together and sit in the Oval Office. Make a deal,” the Democrat said.
Another controversy around Trump broke on Thursday when the Atlantic magazine reported that the president had called fallen U.S. military personnel buried in Europe “losers” and declined to visit an American cemetery during a 2018 trip to France because he thought it unimportant. Trump vehemently denied the report.
Biden said that, if true, the comments were “a disgrace.”
At a White House press conference on Friday evening, Trump called the story a “hoax”, adding: “There is nobody that feels more strongly about our soldiers, our wounded warriors, our soldiers that died in war, than I do.”
For most voters, the economy remains a major issue. U.S. employment remains 11.5 million below its pre-pandemic level, and the jobless rate is 4.9 percentage points higher than it was in February.
Trump touted last month’s falling unemployment rate as a sign of recovery.
“Great Jobs Numbers!” he posted on Twitter. “Unemployment Rate Falls To 8.4% (Wow, much better than expected!)”
While the unemployment rate fell last month, it was distorted by people misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work.” Without that error, the unemployment rate would have been about 9.1%, the Labor Department estimated.
Biden stressed the unevenness of the recovery, particularly for people of color, and noted that lower-paid employees in workplaces like factories and stores are also at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
“Those at the top are seeing things go up and those in the middle and below are seeing things go down and get worse,” he said.
While Monday’s Labor Day holiday typically marks the beginning of a more intense phase of the White House race, both Biden and Trump got a head start in the past week with a flurry of activity following their back-to-back party conventions.
Biden traveled to Pittsburgh and Kenosha, Wisconsin, both in battleground states that help decide the election, to address the continuing and sometimes violent protests over racial injustice and police brutality.
Trump also visited Kenosha — a flashpoint city where anti-racist demonstrators have clashed with Trump supporters after police shot a Black man in the back — and made stops in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, another key state.
Both campaigns have launched new ad blitzes in those swing states, with Trump criticizing rioters and protesters.
Trump on Friday won the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police, the United States’ largest police union with 355,000 members. Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, announced endorsements from nearly 200 current and former law enforcement officials in a challenge to Trump’s assertion that he is the candidate of “law and order.”
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis)