Federal Reserve policy statements provide a favorable outlook for the U.S. economy with solid economic growth, strong job gains, and renewed momentum heading into 2015. Real gross domestic product, our broadest measure of inflation-adjusted income and spending, grew at an annualized rate very close to 4 percent for the final three quarters of the year just past. More than 3.5 million new jobs have been created, on net, since the beginning of 2014, and at 5.5 percent, the unemployment rate is down more than a full percentage point from 12 months ago. Propelled by these strong fundamentals, and undoubtedly helped along by falling energy prices, too, real disposable personal income growth has accelerated and measures of consumer confidence have moved sharply higher.
John Taylor is of course one of the world’s most influential academic commentators on monetary policy and, I might say, one whose judgements most (if not all) of us on the SOMC usually agree with to a very great extent. One of his most notable accomplishments is, of course, the development of the well-known “Taylor Rule” as a guideline for the conduct of monetary policy. Almost every one in this room is, I suspect, at least somewhat familiar with this proposed policy rule.
The economy is growing, labor markets have improved dramatically, and inflation is forecast to return to two percent over the intermediate term. However, the Fed still expresses extreme caution about normalizing monetary policy, citing myriad concerns, ranging from sluggish wage growth and low inflation to foreign economic and political risks, which might delay the date at which interest rates finally lift off their zero lower bound. This creates the potential for an erosion of the FOMC’s credibility and suggests the Fed lacks a clear strategy for getting monetary policy back on track.
Economic growth since the deep recession of 2008-2009 has been modest but balanced, and momentum is now building. The outlook for sustained cyclical growth is favorable. So far this expansion, the pace of growth has been dampened by real and financial adjustments following the unsustainable debt and housing bubbles, along with harmful economic and regulatory policies. Not surprisingly, the Fed’s unprecedented monetary stimulus has been largely ineffective in addressing the real, nonmonetary constraints. As these post-crisis adjustments conclude, economic performance will strengthen in 2015-2016, supported by the Fed’s aggressive monetary accommodation and lower energy prices.
The Federal Reserve should fix the interest on reserves floor for the federal funds rate to facilitate the normalization of interest rate policy without interfering in financial markets. Instead, the Fed's intention to employ reverse repurchase agreements to establish a funds rate floor inserts the Fed into money market arbitrage and violates the minimum intervention principle of central banking.
The Federal Reserve is preparing to normalize monetary policy and has plans to raise its policy rate from zero in the very near future. Economic conditions have improved markedly in the past year. This is seen in respectable economic growth and the unemployment rate has been falling below 5.5%, the Fed’s estimate of the natural rate. Until earlier this year the FOMC has been reluctant to normalize monetary policy and raise the federal funds rate because it felt that labor market conditions were still too soft. That reason is vanishing very quickly.
The Federal Open Market Committee’s Policy Statement from its January 27-28 meeting provides a favorable outlook for the US economy with solid economic growth and strong job gains and renewed momentum heading into 2015.
Real gross domestic product, our broadest measure of inflation-adjusted income and spending, advanced at a 2.5 percent rate during the past year, weighed down considerably by the severe weather-related decline in 2014Q1; real GDP growth exceeded 4 percent in the final three quarters of 2014.. This healthy growth generated more than three million new jobs during 2014, and the Employment Report for January 2015 brought even more good news from the American labor market. 257,000 new jobs were created and upward revisions to already strong gains in prior months lifted the cumulative 3-month job gain above one million. At 5.7 percent, the unemployment rate is down almost a full percentage point from a year ago, and wage growth rebounded in January, suggesting that December’s puzzling decline was an anomaly.
While policymakers face real economic challenges—including a secular rise in the duration of jobless spells, a recovery that until recently seemed to taunt us, poorer job prospects for workers with limited skills, and the continually expanding federal disability rolls—the ability of the U.S. economy to provide work for those who seek it has not diminished. Policies to help low-income individuals and families should not presume that the American job-creation machine is broken, or that our recent cyclical challenges portend a “new normal” in the coming decades.
Mainstream monetary economics posits that the Federal Reserve influences economic activity by shaping expectations about the future. According to theory, when the Fed provides “forward guidance” about the future course of monetary policy, consumers and producers adjust their spending, hiring, and investment decisions accordingly. Forward guidance, in turn, can be communicated to the public via statements from Fed officials or public understanding of a policy rule that leads the Federal Open Market Committee to adjust its target for the federal funds rate.
Forgive me for going out of order and not taking up the Economic Policy Institute’s productivity/compensation chart as promised in my inaugural column in this series. But Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez has published the latest estimates on income concentration in the United States, extending a series he has produced with Thomas Piketty.
This paper examines the evolution of major U.S. welfare programs since 1998—shortly after the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), the 1996 federal welfare reform signed into law by President Clinton, went into effect.
The paper chronicles the average amount of aid provided, as well as length of time on public assistance, focusing on the following programs: SNAP; Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or TANF (established by PRWORA); Medicaid; and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV). The paper also reports on how welfare eligibility and enrollment have expanded significantly since the Great Recession began in late 2007.
Indeed, while the U.S. economy has since improved, participation in such programs has generally not declined. This paper concludes that there is ample scope for states to reform welfare, and it proposes two substantial changes: (1) cap welfare spending at the rate of inflation and the number of Americans in poverty; and (2) allow states to direct savings from welfare programs to other budget functions.
While politically challenging, such changes would allow states greater flexibility to better target the neediest, as well as stem the increasing flow of money into such programs. For instance, this paper finds that federal savings through 2013 would, after accounting for inflation and the number of Americans in poverty, total $1.3 trillion had welfare funding remained at 1998 levels.
Last week, the Economic Policy Institute released a report on trends in wages, earnings, and incomes called, “Wage Stagnation in Nine Charts.” The report, by EPI president Larry Mishel, Elise Gould, and Josh Bivens is a greatest-hits compilation of EPI’s attempts to show that the American middle class is in trouble because of rising inequality.
The recent financial recession ended in 2009. It has been followed by close to six years of abnormally sluggish growth. To allay the crisis and contraction, the Federal Reserve drove short-term interest rates to the zero lower bound. To continue stimulating the economy, the Fed has followed a policy of quantitative easing (QE) which has more than tripled its balance sheet. The policy has kept both short-term and long-term interest rates at historically low levels. The U.S. economy is finally showing meaningful signs of recovery and, thus, the Fed stopped its QE policy at the end of October 2014. However, debate continues over the effectiveness of QE and the timing of the Fed’s return to normality either through an increase in its policy rate or by other means. This paper examines the exit debate by looking back at the experience of the 1930s and 1940s when the Fed, under Treasury control, kept interest rates at levels comparable to today and its balance sheet increased similarly.
The question of how many legal immigrants should be admitted to the United States—and what level of skills these immigrants should have—is among the most divisive issues in the current U.S. domestic policy landscape. Much of the controversy that it sparks can be traced to a single question: Do immigrants help or harm the economy?