Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Friday laced into President Trump’s stewardship of the economy, arguing that even as a new jobs report showed moderate and unexpected gains, Mr. Trump should be held to account for deepening the nation’s staggering and unequal economic pain.
Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, delivered the speech at Delaware State University, a historically black university in Dover, Del., just hours after a jobs report showed the unemployment rate falling to 13.3 percent from 14.7 percent in April as employers added some 2.5 million jobs, to the surprise of many economists. Republicans hope to run on a message of economic comeback after months of devastating numbers amid the pandemic, and Mr. Biden, too, said that he was “proud of” and “so happy” for the Americans who had found work.
But it was far too soon, he warned, to declare the economic crisis over, noting that black unemployment had risen and millions of Americans continued to face extraordinary financial difficulties — circumstances that could have been mitigated, he said, had Mr. Trump responded more quickly to the coronavirus crisis.
It was Mr. Biden’s latest effort to center the race around familiar themes of leadership and steadiness, as well as to press populist language he has increasingly embraced in recent months as the nation’s economic footing has crumbled.
“It’s time for him to step out of his own bunker,” Mr. Biden said of the president, suggesting that Mr. Trump was prematurely seeking to declare “Mission Accomplished.” “A president who takes no responsibility for costing millions and millions of Americans their jobs deserves no credit when a fraction of them return.”
Mr. Biden’s remarks came as the country also reeled from unrest surrounding issues of race and police violence, following the killing in Minneapolis last week of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck.
As Mr. Trump touted the economic news on Friday, he also referenced Mr. Floyd, saying, “Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country.”
This is “a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody,” the president continued.
Mr. Biden called those remarks “despicable.”
He also noted that Mr. Trump’s comments about Mr. Floyd came as the economic picture continued to look grim, especially for African-Americans.
Joblessness for black workers rose slightly in Friday’s report, to 16.8 percent from 16.7 percent, and unemployment for Asian-Americans increased to 15 percent from 14.5 percent. The unemployment rate for white workers fell from 14.2 percent to 12.4 percent, while joblessness for Hispanic workers declined from 18.9 percent to 17.6 percent (Mr. Biden said in his remarks that Hispanic unemployment had risen; a spokesman later said he was referring to Latino youth in particular).
And the full scope of the economic downturn remains catastrophic, even after Friday’s numbers. The U.S. economy lost more than 20.5 million jobs in April, according to Labor Department numbers, the largest decline since the government began tracking the data in the 1930s.
“The depth of this job crisis is not attributable to an act of God,” Mr. Biden said, “but to a failure of a president.”
Mr. Biden charged that Mr. Trump’s faltering response to the coronavirus crisis had needlessly cost both American lives and jobs.
On Friday, by contrast, Mr. Trump sought to claim credit for steering America through a crisis he asserts is receding, with his campaign declaring in a statement, “the great American comeback is underway.” The statement said “the economy roared back” and it “was thanks to President Trump’s leadership and the solid foundation his policies have laid.”
“Sadly, Democrat leaders in blue states have kept the economy from reopening for all Americans, preventing everyone from sharing in the economic rebirth as the people most heavily impacted by Covid are not yet seeing improvement,” it read. “Incredibly, Joe Biden is counting on more economic pain for Americans so he can capitalize on it politically.”
In fact, Mr. Biden has repeatedly lamented the economic toll, and did so again on Friday.
Throughout his brief remarks, which lasted just over 12 minutes, Mr. Biden also sought to cast himself as a champion of the middle class running against a candidate concerned only about the wealthiest Americans.
And he previewed the sweeping economic proposals he plans to release to address public health and economic crises as well as a “crisis of inequity and indignity being endured by African-Americans and many other people of color.” He noted that “those three challenges alone are deeply connected to one another, so the solutions have to be connected as well.”
The goal, he said, was “not just to build back the economy the way it was before Covid-19, but to build it back better” — a message that reflected the hope of many progressives who want to see Mr. Biden, a moderate former senator, pursue more systemic change.
Echoing a theme he emphasized in a speech earlier this week, he cast the stakes of the election as far greater than those of a typical partisan political contest.
“Every American has a choice to make in November,” he said. “Not simply who they’re going to have as their president or senators or congresspeople. But what kind of country do we want to be? What kind of economy do we want, and who will it serve?”
Astead W. Herndon and Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.