Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell probably will kick off his post-meeting press conference on Wednesday the same way he’s begun every one this year. The Fed, he’ll tell reporters, has “one over-arching goal: to sustain the economic expansion.’’
Behind that anodyne mission statement lies a grand ambition. Powell is effectively taking on a task that many of his inflation-wary predecessors shunned: extend the fruits of a growing economy to those who rarely benefit, from struggling African-American families to poor rural white people.
The improvement in the jobs market has “started to reach communities at the edge of the workforce,” Powell told lawmakers this month. “It’s just so important for us to continue that process for a couple of years.’’
That means keeping the economy growing at or ideally somewhat above its long-run cruising speed of about 2%, and running a high-pressure labor market by holding unemployment down at levels many economists think unsustainable.
To help in that effort and to protect the U.S. from downside risks from abroad, the Fed chief and his Federal Open Market Committee colleagues are expected to cut interest rates by a quarter percentage point after meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, lowering borrowing costs for the first time in more than a decade.
“I can’t remember a Fed chair who was as emphatic about the benefits of this high-pressure labor market to people who have long been left behind,’’ said Jared Bernstein, a one-time adviser to former Vice President Joe Biden who’s now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Powell can afford to stoke the record-long expansion because inflation is contained and shows no sign of taking off, even with unemployment near a half-century low. Indeed, the Fed would welcome some rise in price pressures after years in which inflation has languished below its 2% target.
The Fed chief also may be betting that pumped-up demand from lower borrowing costs will be met with added supply from the economy that will keep prices from skyrocketing.
The politics are messy. With Trump having relentlessly criticized the Fed for a year for keeping credit too tight, any move to lower rates could fan speculation on Wall Street and in Washington that Powell is knuckling under to the president.
The president attacked the central bank again on Monday, accusing it in a tweet of making “all the wrong moves” and saying a small rate cut this week wouldn’t be enough.
....countries that know how to play the game against the U.S. That’s actually why the E.U. was formed....and for China, until now, the U.S. has been “easy pickens.” The Fed has made all of the wrong moves. A small rate cut is not enough, but we will win anyway!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2019