September 27, 2020

The Fed Enabled a Record Expansion. Trump Is Taking Credit.

By retaining his predecessor’s patient approach to rate increases — and then stopping them altogether as inflation, which the central bank tries to keep under control, hovered at low levels — Mr. Powell’s Fed helped to keep the longest economic expansion in United States history chugging along. The stretch of unbroken growth pushed unemployment to its lowest level in 50 years, prompting companies to cast a wider net for employees, pulling long-sidelined workers back into jobs.

“Both monetary and fiscal policy were stimulative, and it did lead to a strong labor market,” said Stephanie Aaronson, a former Fed researcher who is now at the Brookings Institution. Very low inflation “has given policymakers the latitude to try new things.”

That matters as more than a talking point: It could fundamentally shape the post-pandemic economy. The Fed has signaled that it intends to leave rates low to push unemployment down again, which could help return the labor market to strong levels. But the challenges posed by business closures and job reshuffling mean that elected officials, who have taxing and spending powers that the Fed lacks, may prove crucial to the speed and scope of the rebound.

“The single most important thing we can do here is to support a strong labor market,” Mr. Powell said in late August remarks. “That is more of an all-governmental society project,” and “to wait to the eighth and ninth year of the cycle to get those results — we can do better than that with other policies.”

To be sure, it is easy to overstate how strong conditions were before the pandemic struck.

About 83 percent of adults in their prime working years were in the labor force at the start of 2020, which was a marked improvement but still down from an 84.6 percent high in the late 1990s. Inequality prevailed. Wage growth had picked up from the expansion’s early years, but it remained shy of historical records.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/business/economy/trump-economy-fed.html

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