Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen touts Biden’s economic record in Chicago speech

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen (left) speaks with President & CEO of the Economic Club of Chicago Sean M. Connolly Thursday on the state of the economy.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON – There is a saying in politics that perception is reality.

That applies to economic news — and on Thursday it was very good. On President Joe Biden’s watch, the economy grew 3.1% over last year. Inflation is declining and 2.7 million jobs were added. If you are financially struggling or just think things you buy cost too much, none of that probably matters.

No one knows your pocketbook issues better than you.  

Biden faces a problem on the economic front as he heads into a likely rematch with former President Donald Trump. A new Pew Research Center poll, released on Thursday, found that currently, “44% of Democrats have positive views of the economy — the highest share of Joe Biden’s presidency — compared to 13% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.”

While 28% “rate economic conditions as excellent or good,” up nine points since April, most of the increase came from “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents,” Pew found.

For the Biden team, the upbeat economic messaging in the latest numbers needs a lot of reinforcement.

That’s why Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was in Chicago on Thursday, touting Biden’s economic policies — with an emphasis on how his initiatives are boosting the middle class  — in remarks to the Economic Club of Chicago.

Before her speech, Yellen ate breakfast with Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the Sweet Maple Café in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood.

“Overall, the Biden administration has put in place the most extensive set of policies and investments to benefit the middle class and grow the economy that our country has seen in my lifetime. Our economic plan is improving lives and laying the foundation for a new future for middle-class families and communities across the country,” Yellen said.

She took some swings at Trump, who never was able to make a deal to pass an infrastructure bill. Biden’s massive infrastructure bill, signed into law in November, 2021 is one of his signature achievements. For example, the CTA’s Red Line extension on the South Side is being funded with $1.973 billion from Biden’s infrastructure bill.

“Our country’s infrastructure has been deteriorating for decades. In the Trump administration, the idea of doing anything to fix it was a punch line. But this administration has delivered,” Yellen said.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a $1.2 trillion investment in the 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. These changes are happening everywhere in America, not just on the coasts or in wealthier communities,” she said.

Selling Biden’s economic wins is why Yellen will be in Milwaukee on Friday, touring a job training center aimed at women and people of color, and giving a similar speech on the Biden economy in the must-win state of Wisconsin.

Throwing a spotlight on the economy is why Biden was in Superior, Wisconsin on Thursday — a city near the Minnesota border — delivering remarks about the brightening economy to two states crucial to his re-election. Biden emphasized that the infrastructure law he got passed already pumped $6.1 billion in Wisconsin projects so far, with $5.7 billion for projects for Minnesota.

“Folks, I’m here today to talk about something that doesn’t get enough attention: the progress we’re making to invest in America — in American workers, in American products — to invest in America. That’s what we’re doing: bringing work, opportunity, and hope to people and communities all across this country. Just last week, we saw the biggest jump in 30 years in how positive consumers are feeling about the economy. Things are finally beginning to sink in,” Biden said.

Biden was in Chicago on June 28 talking up, as he put it in a speech at the Old Post Office, his “economic vision for this country: the economy that grows the economy from the middle out and the bottom up instead of just the top down.” The “Bidenomics” branding that came with that speech didn’t do much and is on a backburner.

But slogan aside, under Biden, the economy, beaten down in the COVID years, is growing. And that’s going to be a centerpiece of his bid for a second term.

Doug Emhoff in Chicago

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff was in Chicago on Wednesday and Thursday to headline fundraisers for the Biden re-election campaign. The Wednesday event was aimed at lawyers. The Thursday lunch was co-hosted by, among others Tamar Newberger and Andy Schapiro, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic under ex-President Barack Obama.

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