Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fed Study Claims 80,000 Jobs per Month Are Enough
An article in the July issue of the Chicago Fed Letter by two Fed economists concludes that the monthly employment gains necessary to lower the unemployment rate should be much smaller than widely believed:
According to our analysis, job growth of more than about 80,000 jobs per month would put downward pressure on the unemployment rate, down significantly from 150,000 to 200,000 during the 1980s and 1990s. We expect this trend to fall to around 35,000 jobs per month from 2016 through the remainder of the decade. These estimates rely on several assumptions, notably about future labor force participation and immigration.
The authors rightly note that their estimates are lower than the conventional wisdom that 100,000 to 150,000 jobs per month are needed to lower the unemployment rate.

The Fed has been operating under the so-called Evans Rule since December 12, 2012, when the FOMC statement announced that its ultra-easy monetary policy “will be appropriate at least as long as the unemployment rate remains above 6-1/2 percent, inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal, and longer-term inflation expectations continue to be well anchored.” This indicator-based guidance replaced the previous date-based guidance.

Chicago Fed President Charles Evan was the first to suggest these numerical targets in a speech on November 27, 2012:
In the past, I have said we should hold the fed funds rate near zero at least as long as the unemployment rate is above 7 percent and as long as inflation is below 3 percent. I now think the 7 percent threshold is too conservative. Our latest actions put us on a better policy path than we had when I first proposed the 7/3 markers a year ago. At the same time, there still are few signs of substantial inflationary pressures. If we continue to have few concerns about inflation along the path to a stronger recovery there would be no reason to undo the positive effects of these policy actions prematurely just because the unemployment rate hits 6.9 percent—a level that is still notably above the rate we associate with maximum employment.

This logic is supported by a number of macro-model simulations I have seen, which indicate that we can keep the funds rate near zero until the unemployment rate hits at least 6-1/2 percent and still generate only minimal inflation risks. Even a 6 percent threshold doesn’t look threatening in many of these scenarios. But for now, I am ready to say that 6-1/2 percent looks like a better unemployment marker than the 7 percent rate I had called for earlier.

With regard to the inflation safeguard, I have previously discussed how the 3 percent threshold is a symmetric and reasonable treatment of our 2 percent target. This is consistent with the usual fluctuations in inflation and the range of uncertainty over its forecasts. But I am aware that the 3 percent threshold makes many people anxious. The simulations I mentioned earlier suggest that setting a lower inflation safeguard is not likely to impinge too much on the policy stimulus generated by a 6-1/2 percent unemployment rate threshold. Indeed, we’re much more likely to reach the 6-1/2 percent unemployment threshold before inflation begins to approach even a modest number like 2-1/2 percent.

So, given the recent policy actions and analyses I mentioned, I have reassessed my previous 7/3 proposal. I now think a threshold of 6-1/2 percent for the unemployment rate and an inflation safeguard of 2-1/2 percent, measured in terms of the outlook for total PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index) inflation over the next two to three years, would be appropriate.

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