Big Economic Challenges Await Biden and the Fed This Fall

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Mr. Powell said at his news conference last week that “we’re some way away from having had substantial further progress toward the maximum employment goal.”

“I would want to see some strong job numbers,” he added.

In the text of a speech on Friday, Lael Brainard, an influential Fed governor, said she wanted to see September economic data to assess whether the labor market was strong enough for the Fed to begin dialing back support, which suggests she would not favor signaling a start to the slowdown until later this fall. But her colleague Christopher J. Waller said in a CNBC interview on Monday that he would probably prefer to begin pulling back bond purchases quickly, if jobs data hold up, perhaps as soon as October.

Increases in interest rates — the Fed’s more traditional, and more potent, tool — remain farther away. Most Fed officials in June projected that they would not lift their federal funds rate until 2023 at earliest, because they would like the labor market to return to full strength first.

How rapidly the economy can achieve that goal is an open question. Employers regularly complain about the enhanced benefits, but even they have sent mixed messages on whether those are the main driver keeping labor at bay.

“Many contacts were optimistic that labor availability would improve in the fall as schools restart and enhanced unemployment benefits end,” the Atlanta Fed’s qualitative report on business conditions found in June. “However, there were several who do not expect labor supply to improve for six to nine months.”

Peter Ganong, an economist at the University of Chicago, said that if the pattern that he and his fellow researchers had seen in employment data held, he would not expect a wave of workers to jump back into jobs just because supplemental benefits expired.

“So far, we see small employment differences even when vaccines are becoming available,” he said. Mr. Ganong and his co-authors compared the job-finding rates of people whose wages were more fully replaced by supplemental benefits and people whose wages were less fully replaced. They found small and relatively steady differences, even as the economy reopened.

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