Treasury secretary pushes ‘historic’ economy, tries to improve outlook

The Biden administration hopes to flip the script on what a large portion of American voters see as a poor U.S. economic outlook, which many blame on the president himself. 

The administration dispatched Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to the Midwest on Thursday to try to convince Americans that the economy is actually doing well — while also drawing a contrast between the U.S. economy under former President Donald Trump, and now under President Joe Biden.

Yellen delivered remarks in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, and the White House shared excerpts of her speech with Scripps News.

“Though some forecasters thought a recession last year was inevitable, President Biden and I did not — instead of contracting, the economy has continued to grow, driven by American workers and President Biden’s economic strategy. It now produces far more goods and services than it did before the pandemic,” Yellen said in her speech. 

Whether her remarks resonate with Americans in 2024 remains to be seen. A Gallup Poll taken in December showed that 68% of Americans believe the economy is worsening, compared to 28% who believe the economy is improving. 

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index remained at levels lower than at any point during the Trump administration.

Yellen tried to combat public perception by outlining how middle-class Americans drove economic growth, and how the middle class is at the “heart” of the economy. 

“President Biden and I believe that GDP growth is not meaningful if it is not shared; if it doesn’t impact the lives of these Americans. And we also believe that a stronger middle class and a thriving economy everywhere in the United States is key to building a more robust and resilient economy overall,” she said in the speech. 

Yellen highlighted a $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Congress approved in 2022 as bringing new opportunities for middle-class families. 

“We started with infrastructure,” she said. “Our country’s infrastructure has been deteriorating for decades. In the Trump Administration, the idea of doing anything to fix it was a punchline. But this administration has delivered. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a $1.2 trillion investment in our nation’s infrastructure. It is bringing new opportunities within reach for middle-class families. It’s creating new construction jobs that do not require a college degree. It’s providing access to clean water and to better internet. It’s helping goods get to consumers faster and at lower cost.”

In recent weeks, Yellen took other trips to talk up the economy under President Biden, but she had not gone as far as to compare the economies directly under each administration. 

Yellen’s visit to Chicago comes the same day a 2023 analysis showed the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3.3% in the fourth quarter and 2.5% for the year. The administration’s campaign blitz also follows the first signs consumer confidence is growing, as the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey for January hit its highest level in 2 1/2 years, with the largest two-month jump since 1991.   

“New Treasury analysis shows that a worker earning the median wage can today buy the same goods and services as in 2019, with nearly $1,400 left over to save or spend. And families are now putting their extra income and their accumulated pandemic-era savings back into the economy,” Yellen asserted. 

Her visit to Chicago was scheduled to be followed by one to Wisconsin. President Biden visited the Badger State on Thursday, to focus on a new federal funding project for infrastructure — bringing with him $1 billion in federal funding to fix Blatnik Bridge near Superior, Wisconsin, which connects Wisconsin and Minnesota. The money is part of a newly announced nearly $5 billion investment in transportation projects nationwide.