Labor Market Dynamics and Monetary Policy
Chair Janet L. Yellen
FRBKC Economic Symposium
Jackson Hole, Wyoming August 22, 2014
In the five years since the end of the Great Recession, the economy has made considerable progress in recovering from the largest and most sustained loss of employment in the United States since the Great Depression.1 More jobs have now been created in the recovery than were lost in the downturn, with payroll employment in May of this year finally exceeding the previous peak in January 2008. Job gains in 2014 have averaged 230,000 a month, up from the 190,000 a month pace during the preceding two years. The unemployment rate, at 6.2 percent in July, has declined nearly 4 percentage points from its late 2009 peak. Over the past year, the unemployment rate has fallen considerably, and at a surprisingly rapid pace. These developments are encouraging, but it speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover.
The Federal Reserve’s monetary policy objective is to foster maximum employment and price stability. In this regard, a key challenge is to assess just how far the economy now stands from the attainment of its maximum employment goal. Judgments concerning the size of that gap are complicated by ongoing shifts in the structure of the labor market and the possibility that the severe recession caused persistent changes in the labor market’s functioning.
These and other questions about the labor market are central to the conduct of monetary policy, so I am pleased that the organizers of this year’s symposium chose labor market dynamics as its theme. My colleagues on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and I look to the presentations and discussions over the next two days for insights into possible changes that are affecting the labor market. I expect, however, that our understanding of labor market developments and their potential implications for inflation will remain far from perfect. As a consequence, monetary policy ultimately must be conducted in a pragmatic manner that relies not on any particular indicator or model, but instead reflects an ongoing assessment of a wide range of information in the context of our ever-evolving understanding of the economy.
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