As reported in the above-linked Reuters article, Boston Fed bank president Eric Rosengren worries that the Federal Reserve has been “too successful” is lowering unemployment. He explains:
“The recurrent pattern (of recessions) was one where the tightening of monetary policy was expected to slow the economy down gently…to full employment,” Rosengren and three Boston Fed co-authors noted. But “Once the unemployment rate starts to rise by a relatively modest amount, dynamics take hold that tend to push the economy into a recession.”
The Fed considers an unemployment rate of 4.5% to represent “full employment.” The current rate of unemployment, as reported by the Labor Department on Friday, is 3.9%. So the Fed worries that there’s no place for the unemployment rate to go but up, and even a small rise could start a recessionary downward spiral in the economy.
This is ridiculous for two reasons:
- The Fed ignores its own role in choking off the economy and precipitating recessions by constantly tightening monetary policy (i.e., raising interest rates) as unemployment drops, and
- The Fed has bought into bogus employment figures propagated by the Labor Department in an effort to stabilize confidence in economic policy in the wake of the Great Recession.
Regarding point 2 above, consider the following:
- In November of 2007, just before the collapse of Lehman Bros. triggered the Great Recession, 48.4% of the U.S. population was employed and the unemployment rate stood at 4.7%.
- As of August of 2018, the U.S. population has grown by 25.6 million people. But, according to the Labor Department, the work force has grown by only 7.9 million workers, and the nation’s employment level has grown by only 8.9 million workers. And in August of this year, only 47.4% of the population was employed. Yet, thanks to the unnaturally low rate of growth in the labor force reported by the Labor Department, instead of rising, official unemployment has fallen to 3.9%
- An honest accounting of the labor force that grows proportionately with population growth would produce a current unemployment rate of 6.8% – nowhere close to “full employment.”
- In spite of the decline in unemployment, wages have barely risen, confounding economic experts. They haven’t risen because unemployment is still quite high – not anywhere close to being low enough to put upward pressure on wages.
Even the definition of “full employment” used by the Fed – 4.5% – is subject to debate. If that level is “full employment,” how do you explain that some states and some countries routinely operate well below that level? During World War II, unemployment fell to approximately 1% in the U.S.
The Federal Reserve is making a big mistake with its program of hiking interest rates just because the economy is doing better. President Trump has been right to criticize its policies. How can he “Make America Great Again” when the Fed’s policy is to “Let America Get Just a Little Bit Better – But Not Much?”