McDonald’s is raising wages at its company-owned restaurants. It is also helping its franchisees hang on to workers with funding for backup child care, elder care and tuition assistance. Pay is up at Chipotle, too, and Papa John’s and many of its franchisees are offering hiring and referral bonuses.
The reason? “In January, 8 percent of restaurant operators rated recruitment and retention of work force as their top challenge,” Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research at the National Restaurant Association, said in an email. “By May, that number had risen to 72 percent.”
Restaurant workers — burger flippers and bussers, cooks and waiters — have emerged from the pandemic recession to find themselves in a position they could not have imagined a couple of years ago: They have options. They can afford to wait for a better deal.
In the first five months of the year, restaurants put out 61 percent more “workers wanted” posts for waiters and waitresses than they had in the same months of 2018 and 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down bars and restaurants around the country, according to data from Burning Glass, a job market analytics firm.
replace their face-to-face workers with robots and software. Yet there are signs that the country’s low-wage labor force might be in for more lasting raises.
Even before the pandemic, wages of less-educated workers were rising at the fastest rate in over a decade, propelled by shrinking unemployment. And after the temporary expansion of unemployment insurance ends, with Covid-19 under control and children back at school, workers may be unwilling to accept the deals they accepted in the past.
Jed Kolko, chief economist at the job placement site Indeed, pointed to one bit of evidence: the increase in the reservation wage — the lowest wage that workers will accept to take a job.
According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average reservation wage is growing fastest for workers without a college degree, hitting $61,483 in March, 26 percent more than a year earlier. Aside from a dip at the start of the pandemic, it has been rising since November 2017.
“That suggests it is a deeper trend,” Mr. Kolko noted. “It’s not just about the recovery.”
Other trends could support higher wages at the bottom. The aging of the population, notably, is shrinking the pool of able-bodied workers and increasing demand for care workers, who toil for low pay but are vital to support a growing cohort of older Americans.
“There was a work force crisis in the home care industry before Covid,” said Kevin Smith, chief executive of Best of Care in Quincy, Mass., and president of the state industry association. “Covid really laid that bare and exacerbated the crisis.”
more families turning their backs on nursing homes, which were early hotbeds of coronavirus infections, Mr. Smith said, personal care aides and home health aides are in even shorter supply.
“The demand for services like ours has never been higher,” he said. “That’s never going back.”
And some of the changes brought about by the pandemic might create new transition opportunities that are not yet in the Brookings data. The accelerated shift to online shopping may be a dire development for retail workers, but it will probably fuel demand for warehouse workers and delivery truck drivers.
The coronavirus outbreak induced such an unusual recession that any predictions are risky. And yet, as Ms. Escobari of Brookings pointed out, the recovery may provide rare opportunities for those toiling for low wages.
“This time, people searching for jobs may have a lot of different options,” she said. “That is not typical.”
Anxieties over a lag in hiring lifted on Friday as the government reported that employers added 850,000 workers in June, the largest monthly gain since last summer.
Wages jumped for the third month in a row, a sign that employers are trying to attract applicants with higher pay and that workers are gaining bargaining power.
Rising Covid-19 vaccination rates and a growing appetite for travel, dining out, celebrations and entertainment gave a particular boost to leisure and hospitality businesses. The biggest chunk of June’s gains — 343,000 — could be found there.
accelerated rate of early retirements means that some of those workers will never come back.
“Today there are more job openings than before the pandemic and fewer people in the labor force,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of the staffing company ManpowerGroup North America. “The single defining challenge for employers is enticing American workers back to the work force.”
The report follows several promising economic developments this week. Consumer confidence, which surged in June, is at its highest point since the pandemic’s onset last year. Stocks closed out the first half of the year at record highs. And the Congressional Budget Office said Thursday that the economy was on track to recover all the jobs lost in the pandemic by the middle of next year.
But economists cautioned against trying to divine the complex currents crisscrossing the labor market from a single month’s data, particularly given how much the pandemic has disrupted employment patterns.
may reflect smaller-than-expected layoffs rather than big gains. Over a longer period, employment in both public and private education remains significantly below its prepandemic level.
remarks from the White House.
The June figures are unlikely to allay the concerns of small-business owners and managers who complain about the difficulty finding workers. Nearly half report that they cannot fill openings, according to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business.
The competition for workers has pushed up wages. Average hourly earnings climbed 3.6 percent in the year through June and 0.3 percent over the month. Low-wage workers seem to be the biggest beneficiaries of the bump in pay.
Ms. Frankiewicz of ManpowerGroup said the rise of “superemployers” like Amazon and Walmart was making it even more difficult for small and medium-size businesses to attract workers. In the summer of 2019, the top 25 employers had 10 percent of the open jobs, she said, while “today 10 employers do.”
moved to end distribution of federal pandemic-related jobless benefits even though they are funded until September, arguing that the assistance — including a $300 weekly supplement — was discouraging people from returning to work.
The latest jobs report did not reflect the cutoff’s impact because the government surveys were completed before any states ended benefits.
Staffing firms said they had not seen a pickup in job searches or hiring in states that have since withdrawn from the federal jobless programs.
Indeed surveyed 5,000 people in and out of the labor force and found that child care responsibilities, health concerns, vaccination rates and a financial cushion — from savings or public assistance — had all affected the number looking for work. Many employers are desperate to hire, but only 10 percent of workers surveyed said they were urgently seeking a job.
And even among that group, 20 percent said they didn’t want to take a position immediately.
Aside from ever-present concerns about pay and benefits, workers are particularly interested in jobs that allow them to work remotely at least some of the time. In a survey of more than 1,200 people by the staffing company Randstad, roughly half said they preferred a flexible work arrangement that didn’t require them to be on site full time.
Some employers are getting creative with work arrangements in response, said Karen Fichuk, chief executive of Randstad North America. One employer changed the standard shift to match the bus schedule so employees could get to work more easily. Others adjusted hours to make it easier for parents with child care demands.
Health and safety concerns are also on the minds of workers whose jobs require face-to-face interactions, the survey found.
Black and Hispanic workers, who were disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and by job losses, are having trouble regaining their foothold. “The Black unemployment rate is still exceptionally high,” at 9.2 percent compared with 5.2 percent for white workers, said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York.
One factor in the elevated Black jobless rate is that the ranks of Black workers employed or seeking jobs grew sharply last month. But participation in the labor force remains lower than it was before the pandemic among all major racial and ethnic groups.
Professor Holder said some people were reluctant to rejoin the labor force because of the quality and the pay of the work available.
“We don’t have a shortage of people to work,” she said. “What we don’t have are decent jobs.”
Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman contributed reporting.
As Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin scrambled to save faltering markets at the start of the pandemic last year, America’s top economic officials were in near-constant contact with a Wall Street executive whose firm stood to benefit financially from the rescue.
Laurence D. Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, was in frequent touch with Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Powell in the days before and after many of the Fed’s emergency rescue programs were announced in late March. Emails obtained by The New York Times through a records request, along with public releases, underscore the extent to which Mr. Fink planned alongside the government for parts of a financial rescue that his firm referred to in one message as “the project” that he and the Fed were “working on together.”
While some conversations were previously disclosed, the newly released emails, together with public calendar records, show the extent to which economic policymakers worked with a private company as they were drawing up a response to the financial meltdown and how intertwined BlackRock has become with the federal government.
60 recorded calls over the frantic Saturday and Sunday leading up to the Fed’s unveiling on Monday, March 23, of a policy package that included its first-ever program to buy corporate bonds, which were becoming nearly impossible to sell as investors sprinted to convert their holdings to cash. Mr. Mnuchin spoke to Mr. Fink five times that weekend, more than anyone other than the Fed chair, whom he spoke with nine times. Mr. Fink joined Mr. Mnuchin, Mr. Powell and Larry Kudlow, who was the White House National Economic Council director, for a brief call at 7:25 the evening before the Fed’s big announcement, based on Mr. Mnuchin’s calendars.
book on funds.
On March 24, 2020, the New York Fed announced that it had again hired BlackRock’s advisory arm, which operates separately from the company’s asset-management business but which Mr. Fink oversees, this time to carry out the Fed’s purchases of commercial mortgage-backed securities and corporate bonds.
BlackRock’s ability to directly profit from its regular contact with the government during rescue planning was limited. The firm signed a nondisclosure agreement with the New York Fed on March 22, restricting involved officials from sharing information about the coming programs.
were contracting and its business outlook hinged on what happened in certain markets.
While the Fed and Treasury consulted with many financial firms as they drew up their response — and practically all of Wall Street and much of Main Street benefited — no other company was as front and center.
Simply being in touch throughout the government’s planning was good for BlackRock, potentially burnishing its image over the longer run, Mr. Birdthistle said. BlackRock would have benefited through “tons of information, tons of secondary financial benefits,” he said.
Mr. Mnuchin could not be reached for comment. Asked whether top Fed officials discussed program details with Mr. Fink before his firm had signed the nondisclosure agreement, the Fed said Mr. Powell and Randal K. Quarles, a Fed vice chair who also appears in the emails, “have no recollection of discussing the terms of either facility with Mr. Fink.”
“Nor did they have any reason to do so because the Federal Reserve Bank of New York handled the process with great care and transparency,” the central bank added in its statement.
Brian Beades, a spokesman for BlackRock, highlighted that the firm had “stringent information barriers in place that ensure separation between BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory and the firm’s investment business.” He said it was “proud to have been in a position to assist the Federal Reserve in addressing the severe downturn in financial markets during the depths of the crisis.”
Daily Business Briefing
The disclosed emails between Fed and BlackRock officials — 11 in all across March and early April — do not make clear whether the company knew about any of the Fed and Treasury programs’ designs or whether they were simply providing market information.
Fed chair’s official schedule from that March. Those calendars generally track scheduled events, and may have missed meetings in early 2020 when staff members were frantically working on the market rescue and the Fed was shifting to work from home, a central bank spokesman said.
Mr. Powell’s calendars did show that he talked to Mr. Fink in March, April and May, and he has previously answered questions about those discussions.
“I can’t recall exactly what those conversations were, but they would have been about what he is seeing in the markets and things like that, to generally exchanging information,” Mr. Powell said at a July news conference, adding that it wasn’t “very many” conversations. “He’s typically trying to make sure that we are getting good service from the company that he founded and leads.”
BlackRock’s connections to Washington are not new. It was a critical player in the 2008 crisis response, when the New York Fed retained the firm’s advisory arm to manage the mortgage assets of the insurance giant American International Group and Bear Stearns.
Several former BlackRock employees have been named to top roles in President Biden’s administration, including Brian Deese, who heads the White House National Economic Council, and Wally Adeyemo, who was Mr. Fink’s chief of staff and is now the No. 2 official at the Treasury.
in early 2009 to $7.4 trillion in 2019. By the end of last year, they were $8.7 trillion.
As it expanded, it has stepped up its lobbying. In 2004, BlackRock Inc. registered two lobbyists and spent less than $200,000 on its efforts. By 2019 it had 20 lobbyists and spent nearly $2.5 million, though that declined slightly last year, based on OpenSecrets data. Campaign contributions tied to the firm also jumped, touching $1.7 million in 2020 (80 percent to Democrats, 20 percent to Republicans) from next to nothing as recently as 2004.
short-term debt markets that came under intense stress as people and companies rushed to move all of their holdings into cash. And problems were brewing in the corporate debt market, including in exchange-traded funds, which track bundles of corporate debt and other assets but trade like stocks. Corporate bonds were difficult to trade and near impossible to issue in mid-March 2020. Prices on some high-grade corporate debt E.T.F.s, including one of BlackRock’s, were out of whack relative to the values of the underlying assets, which is unusual.
People could still pull their money from E.T.F.s, which both the industry and several outside academics have heralded as a sign of their resiliency. But investors would have had to take a financial hit to do so, relative to the quoted value of the underlying bonds. That could have bruised the product’s reputation in the eyes of some retail savers.
fund recovery was nearly instant.
When the New York Fed retained BlackRock’s advisory arm to make the purchases, it rapidly disclosed details of those contracts to the public. The firm did the program cheaply for the government, waiving fees for exchange-traded fund buying and rebating fees from its own iShares E.T.F.s back to the New York Fed.
The Fed has explained the decision to hire the advisory side of the house in terms of practicality.
“We hired BlackRock for their expertise in these markets,” Mr. Powell has since said in defense of the rapid move. “It was done very quickly due to the urgency and need for their expertise.”
Federal Reserve officials left policy unchanged on Wednesday but moved up expectations for when they would first raise interest rates from rock bottom, a sign that a healing labor market and rising inflation were giving policymakers confidence that they would achieve their full employment and stable price goals in coming years.
Fed policymakers expect to make two interest rate increases by the end of 2023, the central bank’s updated summary of economic projections showed Wednesday. Previously, the median official had anticipated that rates would stay near zero — where they have been since March 2020 — at least into 2024. The Fed now sees rates rising to 0.6 percent by the end of 2023, up from 0.1 percent.
The significant upgrade comes as the economy is healing, and as Fed officials penciled in stronger growth in 2021, faster inflation and slightly quicker labor market progress next year.
“Progress on vaccinations has reduced the spread of Covid-19 in the United States,” the Fed said in a statement released at the conclusion of its June 15-16 policy meeting, one that contained several optimistic revisions. “Progress on vaccinations will likely continue to reduce the effects of the public health crisis on the economy, but risks to the economic outlook remain.”
late April, and since it last released economic projections in March. Inflation data have come in faster than officials had expected, and consumer and market expectations for future inflation have climbed. Employers have been hiring more slowly than they were this spring, as job openings abound but it takes workers time to flow into them.
The Fed continued to call that inflation increase largely “transitory” in its new statement. It has consistently pledged to take a patient approach to monetary policy as the economic backdrop rapidly shifts.
Mr. Powell acknowledged that “inflation has come in above expectations” but suggested it was largely because of robust consumer demand coupled with shortages and bottlenecks as the economy reopens.
“Our expectation is that these high inflation readings that we’re seeing now will start to abate,” he said, adding that if prices moved up in a way that was inconsistent with the Fed’s goal, central bankers would be prepared to react by reducing monetary policy support.
The central bank made no changes on Wednesday to its main policy interest rate, which has been set at near zero since March 2020, helping keep borrowing cheap for households and businesses. The Fed will also continue to buy $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, which keeps longer-term borrowing costs low and can bolster stock and other asset prices. Those policies work together to keep money flowing easily through the economy, fueling stronger demand that can help to speed up growth and job market healing.
Officials have pledged to continue to support the economy until the pandemic shock is well behind the United States. Specifically, they have said that they want to achieve “substantial” progress toward their two economic goals — maximum employment and stable inflation — before slowing their bond purchases. The bar for raising interest rates is even higher. Officials have said they want to see the job market back at full strength and inflation on track to average 2 percent over time before they will lift interest rates away from rock bottom.
a “number” of officials at the Fed’s April meeting suggested that they would like to start talking about how and when to begin the so-called taper soon, minutes from that gathering showed.
The Fed is buying $80 billion in Treasury bonds each month, and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities. Those purchases have helped to push the central bank’s balance sheet holdings up to about $8 trillion — roughly twice as big as they were as recently as summer 2019.
Officials including Robert S. Kaplan, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Patrick Harker, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, have signaled that they think it would be appropriate to get those discussions going. Other important policymakers have sounded patient, with John Williams, the New York Fed president, saying that “we’re not near the substantial further progress marker,” in a June 3 Yahoo Finance interview.
Mr. Powell said on Wednesday that officials had begun “talking about talking about” slowing those bond purchases but that the central bank was not preparing to start tapering anytime soon.
“I expect that we’ll be able to say more about timing as we start to see more data,” Mr. Powell said.
Some Republican politicians have questioned whether emergency monetary policy settings remain necessary as the economy reopens and growth rebounds, the Fed has signaled over that the United States is in for a long period of central bank support.
preferred inflation gauge came in at 3.6 percent in April compared to the previous year and is likely to jump even higher in May. The more up-to-date Consumer Price Index was up 5 percent in the year through last month, partly as the figures were compared to very low readings last year.
Officials expect the current price pop to prove temporary, the product of one-off data quirks and the fact that demand is recovering faster than supply chains coming out of the pandemic. Markets seem to broadly share that view: While they have penciled in slightly higher inflation, that recent increase in expectations appears to be stabilizing at a level that is probably more or less consistent with the Fed’s goals.
Still, Wall Street strategists and politicians in Washington alike are watching for any sign that Fed officials have become more concerned about lasting price pressures as some stickier prices in the real economy — such as shelter costs — stabilize and increase.
If inflation does take off in a lasting way and the Fed has to lift interest rates to slow the economy and tame price pressures, that could be bad news. Rapid rate adjustments have a track record of causing recessions, which throw vulnerable workers out of jobs.
But the Fed tries to balance risks when setting policy, and so far, it has seen the risk of pulling back support early as the one to avoid. Millions of jobs are still missing since the start of the pandemic, and monetary policy could help to keep the economy recovering briskly so that displaced employees have a better chance of finding new work.
Alan Rappeport and Matt Phillips contributed reporting.
“We should be on track for a fantastic American comeback summer, full steam ahead,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said this month on the chamber floor. “From vaccinations to job growth, the new Biden administration inherited favorable trends in every direction.”
“But in several important ways, the decisions of elected Democrats have contributed to slowing the return to normalcy,” he added.
Critics have also questioned the wisdom of the Fed’s commitment to keeping interest rates low and buying bonds even as prices begin to rise. Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said last month that while the Fed “maintains that this bout of inflation will be mild and temporary,” it “may be time for the central bank to consider the alternative.”
Mr. Biden’s aides say they continue to monitor the threat that consumer prices could spiral upward, forcing a rapid policy response that could slam the brakes on economic growth. They say that those risks remain low, and that they see no reason to change course on the president’s agenda, including proposed infrastructure and social programs that the president asserts will bolster the economy for years to come. That agenda could prove a more difficult sell, even among congressional Democrats, if job growth continues to disappoint and inflation soars higher than expected.
Fed officials also remain undaunted. They show no sign of raising interest rates soon and are continuing to buy $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month. Officials have given only the earliest hints that they might begin to tiptoe away from that emergency policy setting. They argue that their job is to manage risks, and the risk of withdrawing help early is bigger than the risk that the economy will overheat.
“I don’t think it would be good for the industries we want to see thriving as the recovery continues for us to close off that recovery prematurely,” Randal K. Quarles, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, said at a House committee hearing this week as lawmakers pressed him on the threat of inflation. The Fed is independent of the White House, but responsible for keeping prices in check.
Voters give Mr. Biden high marks for his economic stewardship thus far. A solid majority of Americans — including many Republicans — approve of the president’s plans to raise taxes on high earners and corporations to fund new spending on water pipes, electric vehicles, education, child care assistance, paid leave and other programs, according to polling for The New York Times conducted by the online research firm Survey Monkey from May 3 to 9.
Typically, these relative price changes are not a problem of macroeconomics — something best solved by the Federal Reserve (by raising interest rates) or Congress (by raising taxes) — but a problem of the microeconomics of those industries.
The core challenge of an economy emerging from a pandemic is that numerous industries are going through major shocks in demand and supply simultaneously. That means more big swings in relative price than usual.
Last year, relative price changes cut in both directions (prices for energy and travel-related services fell, while prices for meat and other groceries rose). But this spring, the overwhelming thrust is toward higher prices. There are fewer goods and services with falling prices to offset the rises.
Still, many of the most vivid and economically significant examples of price inflation so far, like for used cars, have unique industry dynamics at play, and therefore represent relative price changes, not economywide price rises. One important thing to watch is whether that changes — whether we start seeing uncomfortably high price increases more dispersed across the full range of goods and services.
That would be a sign that we were in a period not simply of an economy adjusting itself, but one of too much money chasing too little stuff.
One-off prices vs. long-term trends
Not all price changes have equal meaning for inflation. Much depends on what happens next.
If the price of something rises but then is expected to fall back to normal, it will act as a drag on inflation in the future. This often happens when there is a shortage of something caused by an unusual shock, like weather that ruins a crop. In an opposite example, in 2017 a price war brought down the price of mobile phone service, pulling down inflation. But when the price war was over, the downward pull ended.
On the other hand, a price that is expected to rise at exceptional rates year after year has considerably greater implications. Consider, for example, the multi-decade phenomenon in which health care prices rose faster than prices for most other goods, creating a persistent upward push on inflation.
Tesla was one of the worst-performing stocks in the market on Wednesday, tumbling more than 4 percent. The company had once positioned itself as a prominent supporter of cryptocurrencies, and in March, it announced that it would accept Bitcoin in exchange for cars, helping to set off a surge in the asset.
Last week, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, reversed that decision, citing concerns about the energy consumption needed to produce cryptocurrencies. That process, known as mining, involves a using computers to create new Bitcoin by having them solve complex computational problems.
The hard drive maker Seagate Technology — which has a stake in cryptocurrency company Ripple, the creator of the XRP currency — tumbled more than 2 percent. Shares of Seagate and Western Digital, another maker of hard drives, had been on a tear in recent days, as analysts spotlighted surging demand for its computer products, in part, from cryptocurrency miners. Western Digital was down nearly 3 percent.
Bitcoin wasn’t the only element moving the markets. Crude oil tumbled roughly 4 percent, on lingering concerns that the still-spreading coronavirus in India, as well as Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan, could prompt new restrictions that could curtail economic activity.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index was 1.5 percent lower, while the FTSE 100 in Britain was down 1.3 percent. Stock markets in Asia ended the day mainly lower, with the Nikkei in Japan down by 1.3 percent.
Volatility in the stock markets lately has been driven by sentiment about inflation. Investors are nervous that a jump in prices —coming as global economies reopen and as the government continues to pump stimulus funds to spur growth — could push the Federal Reserve and other central banks to raise interest rates or take other measures to cool growth. That would be bad news for riskier investments like stocks.
The Fed and other central banks have said they see the recent increases as transitory caused partly by supply chain issues as economies revive from lockdowns, and that they have no plans to remove emergency support for the economy.
Federal Reserve policymakers will release the minutes from their April meeting on Wednesday.
Turn on the news, scroll through Facebook, or listen to a White House briefing these days and there’s a good chance you’ll catch the Federal Reserve’s least-favorite word: Inflation. If that bubbling popular concern about prices gets too ingrained in America’s psyche, it could spell trouble for the nation’s central bank.
Interest in inflation has jumped this year for both political and practical reasons. Republicans, and even some Democrats, have been warning that the government’s hefty pandemic spending could push inflation higher.And as the economy gains steam, demand is coming back faster than supply. It’s a recipe for bigger price tags for everything from airline tickets to used cars, at least temporarily.
The Fed, which Congress has put in charge of controlling inflation, thinks the jump in prices this year will fade as data quirks, supply bottlenecks and a reopening-induced pop in demand work their way through the system. For now, officials see no reason to tap the brakes by slowing down large-scale bond purchases or raising interest rates, policy changes that would slacken demand as an antidote to accelerating inflation.
And the Fed has big reasons to avoid overreacting: The problem in the wake of the 2007 to 2009 recession was tepid price gains that risked an economically damaging downward spiral, not fast ones. Inflation far above the central bank’s comfort level hasn’t been a feature of the economic landscape since the 1980s.
data from the Gdelt Project. On Fox News Channel, mentions of inflation have surged to six times the normal rate.
Google searches for “inflation” have taken off, Twitter inflation hashtags have increased, and monthly price data reports have newly become front-page headlines.
The surge in attention comes amid stories of computer chip shortages, gas lines, and surging lumber prices, and also as overall measures of real-world price gains are speeding up.
Today in Business
Consumer Price Inflation surprised economists by rocketing higher in April, data released last week showed, rising by 4.2 percent. While prices were expected to climb for technical reasons, supply bottlenecks and resurgent demand combined to push the data point much higher than the 3.6 percent analysts had penciled in. Fed officials use a different but related index to define their inflation goal.
Eye-popping gains are widely expected to cool down as supply catches up with demand and reopening quirks clear, but as they catch consumer attention, inflation expectations are shooting higher across a range of measures. And that poses a risk.
highest level since 2006 last week. A consumer survey collected by the University of Michigan — and closely watched by top Fed officials — jumped in preliminary May data, rising to 4.6 percent for the next year and 3.1 percent for the next five, the highest level in a decade.
The gap between short- and long-term expectations is echoed in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations. Americans’ year-ahead inflation expectations rose to the highest level since 2013 in April, but the outlook for inflation over the next three years has been much more stable.
Fed policymakers have taken heart in the fact that households seem to be preparing more for a short-term pop — something central bankers have said they are willing to look past without lifting rates — than for years of superfast price gains.
But they have been clear that there are limits to tolerable increases, without precisely defining what those would be.
If expectations started to rise “month after month after month,” that would be concerning, Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said during an interview on May 10, before the latest Michigan data were released. She declined to put a number on what would worry her.
Inflation expectations data are notoriously hard to parse, and the consumer trackers tend to be heavily influenced by gas prices. The Fed has recently been using a quarterly measure that has moved up by less. But the speed of recent adjustments has called into question how much acceleration would be a problem, signaling that people have come to accept inflation in a way that will keep actual prices rising.
The inflation outlook is uncertain both because of the unusual moment — the economy has never reopened from a pandemic before — and because the way the government approaches economic policy has shifted over the past year.
The Fed’s new policy approach, adopted last August, both aims for periods of higher inflation and doubles down on the central bank’s full employment goal. Practically, it means the central bank plans to leave rates low for years, and it has helped to justify continuing a huge bond-buying program that the Fed began at the start of the pandemic downturn. Those policies make money cheap to borrow, ultimately bolstering demand for goods and services and helping prices to rise.
At the same time, the federal government has drastically loosened its purse strings, spending trillions of dollars to pull the economy out of the pandemic recession. Both the fiscal and the monetary response are meant to keep households economically whole through a challenging period, so there was also a risk to having less-ambitious policies.
Things will most likely work out, economists have predicted. The demand boom anticipated in 2021 is unlikely to last, because consumers’ pandemic savings will eventually be exhausted. Supply issues should be resolved, though it is not clear when. Many analysts expect prices to moderate over the next year or so.
But some underline that expectations are the vulnerability to watch when it comes to inflation, in case they shift before the smoke clears and prices slow their ascent.
“This is something people are talking about in their daily lives, it’s not just a Washington thing,” said Michael Strain, a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. “My expectation is that expectations will remain anchored — but it’s clearly a huge risk.”
American households reported sharply different economic experiences in 2020 as pandemic lockdowns threw workers out of jobs and left many less financially secure, a Federal Reserve report on household economic well-being released Monday showed.
“A clear pattern from the survey is that financial challenges in 2020 were uneven, and frequently left those who entered the year with fewer resources further behind,” according to the Fed’s annual Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households report.
The divergences arose even as Congress and the White House rolled out an enormous spending response meant to keep families financially afloat during a trying period. The data provide evidence that those programs helped — but they did not totally ameliorate the damage for vulnerable households.
The Fed’s online survey, which traces the experiences of U.S. adults older than 18, found that nearly a quarter of respondents said they were worse off financially compared with a year earlier — up from 14 percent in 2019. That came as job losses swept the nation, with roughly one in seven adults reporting that they experienced a layoff at some point in 2020.
“People who kept their jobs during the pandemic generally had stable or improving finances in 2020,” the report said. “However, those who suffered a layoff and an extended period of unemployment saw a deterioration of their financial circumstances.”
Less than a quarter of those who lost jobs had returned to their old positions by late in the year, even though more than 80 percent of laid-off workers had said in April 2020 that they expected to get their jobs back, the survey said.
The economic cost inflicted by state and local lockdowns, while widespread, was far from even. The share of households who reported doing “at least OK financially” held steady over all, but the gap between those with a bachelor’s degree reporting financial comfort and those with less than a high school diploma widened sharply last year — increasing 44 percentage points in 2020 from 34 percentage points in 2019. That happened as the pandemic shuttered service providers like restaurants and shopping malls, costing jobs that require less formal education.
Disparities also played out along racial lines. Black and Hispanic families were far less likely than white and Asian households to report coping financially, the survey showed. Under two-thirds of Black and Hispanic adults said they were doing “at least OK,” versus 80 percent of white adults and 84 percent of Asian adults.
A large share of households took advantage of government relief in 2020. As Congress expanded eligibility and enhanced the generosity of benefits for those experiencing job loss, the report found that 14 percent of adults said they had received unemployment income, up from 2 percent in 2019.
The report said that “many aspects of government stimulus measures” appear “to have blunted the negative financial effects of the pandemic for many families.”
Good morning and happy Sunday. Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (May 9-15)
Panic at the Pump
A cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, one of the biggest fuel arteries in the United States, pushed the average price of gas above $3 per gallon for the first time since 2014. Fearing a shortage, panicked buyers lined up at the pump, which, of course, made the problem worse. To appease the hackers, who are believed to be part of a foreign organized crime group, Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million in ransom — a capitulation that could embolden other criminals to take American companies hostage. The pipeline’s operators restored service late last week but said the supply chain would need several days to return to normal.
It’s Not Your Imagination
A new report from the Labor Department confirmed what you may have noticed: Prices for consumer goods like clothes, food and other household goods were up 4 percent in April from a year ago, blowing past forecasts. Economists are attributing the spike to pandemic-related issues like higher shipping and fuel costs, supply disruptions, rising demand and understaffing at factories and distribution centers. The Federal Reserve tried to assuage fears of inflation by insisting that the increase was temporary. But the news spooked the stock market all the same. And retail sales in April fell short of expectations, holding steady but showing a slowdown in growth after a blockbuster March.
address concerns from U.S. officials that it could be used for money laundering and other illegal purposes. The company is also moving the project to the United States from Switzerland after a stalled attempt to gain approval from Swiss regulators. In other crypto news, Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, abruptly reversed his support for Bitcoin, tweeting that his company would no longer accept the cryptocurrency as payment because of the fossil fuels used in its mining and transactions. After his tweet, the price of Bitcoin dropped more than 10 percent.
What’s Next? (May 16-22)
Free Rides for Shots
As part of an effort to get 70 percent of American adults at least partly vaccinated by July 4, federal and state governments are adding extra incentives. (In case keeping yourself and others safe, and the ability to go maskless, wasn’t a good enough reason.) The Biden administration has partnered with the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to provide free transportation to vaccination sites nationwide starting May 24. West Virginia is working on a plan to offer $100 savings bonds to people ages 16 to 35 who get their shots. And those who receive the vaccine in Ohio will be entered into a lottery that awards a $1 million prize each week for five weeks, starting May 26.
Ellen’s Last Dance
Ellen DeGeneres will end her talk show next year after nearly two decades on the air. Her program has seen a steep decline in ratings after employees complained of a toxic workplace and accused producers of sexual harassment. The accusations looked particularly bad in light of Ms. DeGeneres’s tagline, “Be Kind,” which has become a branded juggernaut used to market merchandise to her fans. Although Ms. DeGeneres apologized publicly in September for the incidents, the show has since lost more than a million viewers, a 43 percent decline from about 2.6 million last season. It also saw a 20 percent decline in advertising revenue from September to February compared with the previous year.
(Slightly) More Golden Arches
In the battle to recruit workers in a tight job market, McDonald’s has become the latest fast-food company to raise hourly wages, following in the recent footsteps of chain restaurants including Chipotle and Olive Garden. But the McDonald’s pay increase applies only to its company-owned restaurants, which make up a small fraction of its business. About 95 percent of its U.S. restaurants are independently owned and set their own wages.
apply for a $50 monthly discount on high-speed internet services. Hearst Magazines sold the American edition of Marie Claire to a British publisher. And after more than a year of trying to figure out what to do with the embattled retailer Victoria’s Secret, the brand’s parent company has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed entities: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.
Join Andrew Ross Sorkin of The Times in conversation with Dame Ellen MacArthur and other economic experts to explore what it will take to transform the economy in the battle against climate change. May 20 at 1:30 p.m. E.T. RSVP here.