The spread of the Delta variant has delayed office reopenings, disrupted the start of school and generally dashed hopes for a return to normal after Labor Day. But it has not pushed the U.S. economic recovery into reverse.
Now that recovery faces a new test: the removal of much of the aid that has helped keep households and businesses afloat for the past year and a half.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which distributed hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses, concluded last spring. A federal eviction moratorium ended last month after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s last-minute effort to extend it. Most recently, an estimated 7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits when programs that expanded the system during the pandemic were allowed to lapse.
Next up: the Federal Reserve, which on Wednesday indicated it could start pulling back its stimulus efforts as early as November.
OpenTable, for example, have fallen less than 10 percent from their early-July peak. That is a far smaller decline than during the last Covid surge, last winter.
“It has moved down, but it’s not the same sort of decline,” Mr. Bryson said of the OpenTable data. “We’re living with it.”
$120 billion in monthly bond purchases — which have kept borrowing cheap and money flowing through the economy — but it will almost certainly keep interest rates near zero into next year. Millions of parents will continue to receive monthly checks through the end of the year because of the expanded child tax credit passed in March as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.
That bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, also provided $350 billion to state and local governments, $21.6 billion in rental aid and $10 billion in mortgage assistance, among other programs. But much has not been spent, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution.
“Those delays are frustrating,” she said. “At the same time, what that also means is that support is going to continue having an effect over the next several quarters.”
Household savings could provide a buffer — if they last.
Economists, including officials in the Biden administration, say that as the economy heals, there will be a gradual “handoff” from government aid to the private sector. That transition could be eased by a record-setting pile of household savings, which could help prop up consumer spending as government aid wanes.
A lot of that money is held by richer, white-collar workers who held on to their jobs and saw their stock portfolios swell even as the pandemic constrained their spending. But many lower-income households have built up at least a small savings cushion during the pandemic because of stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and other aid, according to researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute.
“The good news is that people are going into the fall with some reserves, more reserves than normal,” said Fiona Greig, co-director of the institute. “That can give them some runway in which to look for a job.”
recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small business owners. Not all have had sales turn lower, said Eric Groves, the company’s chief executive. But the uncertainty is hitting at a crucial moment, heading into the holiday season.
“This is a time of year when business owners in the consumer sector in particular are trying to pull out their crystal ball,” he said. “Now is when they have to be purchasing inventory and doing all that planning.”
open a new location as part of a development project on the West Side of Manhattan.
Go big. If some aid ended up going to people or businesses that didn’t really need help, that was a reasonable trade-off for the benefit of getting money to the millions who did.
Today, the calculus is different. The impact of the pandemic is more tightly focused on a few industries and groups. At the same time, many businesses are having trouble getting workers and materials to meet existing demand. Traditional forms of stimulus that seek to stoke demand won’t help them. If automakers can’t get needed parts, for example, giving money to households won’t lead to more car sales — but it might lead to higher prices.
That puts policymakers in a tight spot. If they don’t get help to those who are struggling, it could cause individual hardship and weaken the recovery. But indiscriminate spending could worsen supply problems and lead to inflation. That calls for a more targeted approach, focusing on the specific groups and industries that need it most, said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, the payroll processing firm.
“There are a lot of arrows in the quiver still, but you need them to go into the bull’s-eye now rather than just going all over,” Ms. Richardson said.
Ms. Yellen’s task has been complicated by the fact that while she can readily convey the economic risks of default, the debt limit has become wrapped up in a larger partisan battle over Mr. Biden’s entire agenda, including the $3.5 trillion spending bill.
Republicans, including Mr. McConnell, have insisted that if Democrats want to pass a big spending bill, then they should bear responsibility for raising the borrowing limit. Democrats call that position nonsense, noting that the debt limit needs to be raised because of spending that lawmakers, including Republicans, have already approved.
“This seems to be some sort of high-stakes partisan poker on Capitol Hill, and that’s not what her background is,” said David Wessel, a senior economic fellow at the Brookings Institution who worked with Ms. Yellen at Brookings.
While lawmakers squabble on Capitol Hill, Ms. Yellen’s team at Treasury has been trying to buy as much time as possible. After a two-year suspension of the statutory debt limit expired at the end of July, Ms. Yellen has been employing an array of fiscal accounting tools known as “extraordinary measures” to stave off a default.
Uncertainty over the debt limit has yet to spook markets, but Ms. Yellen is receiving briefings multiple times a week by career staff on the state of the nation’s finances. They are keeping her informed about the use of extraordinary measures, such as suspending investments of the Exchange Stabilization Fund and suspending the issuing of new securities for the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, and carefully reviewing Treasury’s cash balance. Because corporate tax receipts are coming in stronger than expected, the debt limit might not be breached until mid- to late October, Ms. Yellen has told lawmakers.
A Treasury spokeswoman said that Ms. Yellen is not considering fallback plans such as prioritizing debt payments if Congress fails to act, explaining that the only way for the government to address the debt ceiling is for lawmakers to raise or suspend the limit. However, she has reviewed some of the ideas that were developed by Treasury during the debt limit standoff of 2011, when partisan brinkmanship brought the nation to the cusp of default.
A new report from the Bipartisan Policy Center underscored the fact that if Congress fails to address the debt limit, Ms. Yellen will be left with no good options. If the true deadline is Oct. 15, for example, the Treasury Department would be approximately $265 billion short of paying all of its bills through mid-November. About 40 percent of the funds that are owed would go unpaid.
Federal Reserve officials indicated on Wednesday that they expect to soon slow the asset purchases they have been using to support the economy and predicted they might raise interest rates next year, sending a clear signal that policymakers are preparing to curtail full-blast monetary help as the business environment snaps back from the pandemic shock.
Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, said during a news conference that the central bank’s bond purchases, which have propped up the economy since the depths of the pandemic downturn, “still have a use, but it’s time for us to begin to taper them.”
That unusual candor came for a reason: Fed officials have been trying to fully prepare markets for their first move away from enormous economic support. Policymakers could announce a slowdown to their monthly government-backed securities purchases as soon as November, the Fed’s next meeting, and the program may come to a complete end by the middle of next year, Mr. Powell later said. He added that there was “very broad support” on the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee for such a plan.
Nearly 20 months after the coronavirus pandemic first shook America, the Fed is trying to guide an economy in which business has rebounded as consumers spend strongly, helped along by repeated government stimulus checks and other benefits.
markets on edge. In the United States, partisan wrangling could imperil future government spending plans or even cause a destabilizing delay to a needed debt ceiling increase.
Mr. Powell and his colleagues are navigating those crosscurrents at a time when inflation is high and the labor market, while healing, remains far from full strength. They are weighing when and how to reduce their monetary policy support, hoping to prevent economic or financial market overheating while keeping the recovery on track.
“They want to start the exit,” said Priya Misra, global head of rates strategy at T.D. Securities. “They’re putting the markets on notice.”
Investors took the latest update in stride. The S&P 500 ended up 1 percent for the day, slightly higher than it was before the Fed’s policy statement was released, and yields on government bonds ticked lower, suggesting that investors didn’t see a reason to radically change their expectations for interest rates.
The Fed has been holding its policy rate at rock bottom since March 2020 and is buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies that work together to keep many types of borrowing cheap. The combination has fueled lending and spending and helped to foster stronger economic growth, while also contributing to record highs in the stock market.
fresh set of economic projections on Wednesday, laying out their predictions for growth, inflation and the funds rate through the end of 2024. Those included the “dot plot” — a set of anonymous individual estimates showing where each of the Fed’s 18 policymakers expect their interest rate to fall at the end of each year.
last released in June. This was the first time the Fed has released 2024 projections, and officials expected rates to stand at 1.8 percent at the end of that year.
sharply higher in recent months, elevated by supply-chain disruptions and other quirks tied to the pandemic. The Fed’s preferred metric, the personal consumption expenditures index, climbed 4.2 percent in July from a year earlier.
Fed officials expected inflation to average 4.2 percent in the final quarter of 2021 before falling to 2.2 percent in 2022, the new forecasts showed.
Central bankers are trying to predict how inflation will evolve in the coming months and years. Some officials worry that it will remain elevated, fueled by strong consumption and newfound corporate pricing power as consumers come to expect and accept higher costs.
Others fret that the same factors pushing prices higher today will lead to uncomfortably low inflation down the road — for instance, used car prices have contributed heavily to the 2021 increase and could fall as demand wanes. Tepid price increases prevailed before the pandemic started, and the same global trends that had been weighing inflation down could once again dominate.
“Inflation expectations are terribly important, we spend a lot of time watching them, and if we did see them moving up in a troubling way” then “we would certainly react to that,” Mr. Powell said. “We don’t really see that now.”
The Fed’s second goal — full employment — also remains elusive. Millions of jobs remain missing compared with before the pandemic, even after months of historically rapid employment gains. Officials want to avoid lifting interest rates to cool off the economy before the labor market has fully healed. It’s difficult to know when that might be, because the economy has never recovered from pandemic-induced lockdowns before.
“The process of reopening the economy is unprecedented, as was the shutdown at the onset of the pandemic,” Mr. Powell said on Wednesday.
Given those uncertainties, the Fed is likely to move cautiously on raising interest rates. And while Mr. Powell teed up a possible November announcement that the Fed would start slowing its bond-buying, even that is subject to change if the economy does not shape up as expected — or if major risks on the horizon materialize.
“The start of tapering would be delayed if the debt ceiling standoff is unresolved and markets are in turmoil,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note following the meeting.
Yet Mr. Powell made clear that the Fed was not equipped to ride to the rescue if lawmakers could not resolve their differences.
“It’s just very important that the debt ceiling be raised in a timely fashion,” Mr. Powell said, adding that “no one should assume the Fed or anyone else can protect markets and the economy in the event of a failure” to “make sure that we do pay those, when they’re due.”
The share of people living in poverty in the United States fell to a record low last year as an enormous government relief effort helped offset the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression.
In the latest and most conclusive evidence that poverty fell because of the aid, the Census Bureau reported on Tuesday that 9.1 percent of Americans were living below the poverty line last year, down from 11.8 percent in 2019. That figure — the lowest since records began in 1967, according to calculations from researchers at Columbia University — is based on a measure that accounts for the impact of government programs. The official measure of poverty, which leaves out some major aid programs, rose to 11.4 percent of the population.
The new data will almost surely feed into a debate in Washington about efforts by President Biden and congressional leaders to enact a more lasting expansion of the safety net that would extend well beyond the pandemic. Democrats’ $3.5 trillion plan, which is still taking shape, could include paid family and medical leave, government-supported child care and a permanent expansion of the Child Tax Credit.
Liberals cited the success of relief programs, which were also highlighted in an Agriculture Department report last week that showed that hunger did not rise in 2020, to argue that such policies ought to be expanded. But conservatives argue that higher federal spending is not needed and would increase the federal debt while discouraging people from working.
difficult to assess changes in health coverage last year. Census estimates conflicted with other government counts, and officials acknowledged problems with data collection during the pandemic.
federal supplement to state unemployment benefits lapsed. She fell behind on bills, setting in motion events that ultimately left her family homeless for two months this year.
New aid programs adopted this year, including the expanded Child Tax Credit, helped Ms. Long, who moved into a new home last month. She said she had noticed improvements in her children, particularly her 5-year-old son.
“It was bad, but it could have been so much worse, and we have come out the other side once again unbroken,” Ms. Long said.
By the government’s official definition, the number of people living in poverty jumped by 3.3 million in 2020, to 37.2 million, among the biggest annual increases on record. But economists have long criticized that definition, which dates to the 1960s, and said it did a particularly poor job of reflecting reality last year.
7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits this month after Congress allowed expansions of the program to lapse.
Jen Dessinger, a photographer who lives in New York City and Los Angeles, said work dried up abruptly at the start of the pandemic. A freelancer, she didn’t qualify for traditional unemployment benefits but eventually received help under a federal program created last year to help people who fell outside the regular system.
Now that program has ended in the middle of another surge in coronavirus cases. Ms. Dessinger said a single positive coronavirus case could shut down a photo shoot. “It’s made it a more desperate situation,” she said.
Democrats on Tuesday said experiences like Ms. Dessinger’s showed both the potential for government aid to protect people from financial ruin, and the need for a more expansive, permanent safety net that can support people in bad and good times.
A White House economist, Jared Bernstein, said on Tuesday that the new poverty data should encourage lawmakers to enact the $3.5 trillion Democratic measure that includes much of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda, which the administration argues will create more and better-paying jobs.
“It’s one thing to temporarily lift people out of poverty — hugely important — but you can’t stop there,” said Mr. Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers. “We have to make sure that people don’t fall back into poverty after these temporary measures abate.”
“reckless taxing and spending spree.”
Conservative policy experts said that although some expansion of government aid was appropriate during the pandemic, those programs should be wound down, not expanded, as the economy healed.
“Policymakers did a remarkable job last March enacting CARES and other legislation, lending to businesses, providing loan forbearance, expanding the safety net,” Scott Winship, a senior fellow and the director of poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative group, wrote in reaction to the data, referring to an early pandemic aid bill, which included around $2 trillion in spending. “But we should have pivoted to other priorities thereafter.”
Jason DeParle and Margot Sanger-Katz contributed reporting.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, has offered the strongest sign yet that the Fed is prepared to soon withdraw one leg of the support it has been providing to the economy as conditions strengthen.
At the same time, Mr. Powell made clear on Friday that interest rate increases remained far away, and that the central bank was monitoring risks posed by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The Fed has been trying to bolster economic activity by buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month and by leaving its policy interest rate at rock bottom. Officials have been debating when to begin slowing their bond buying, the first step in moving toward a more normal policy setting. They have said they would like to make “substantial further progress” toward stable inflation and full employment before doing so.
Mr. Powell, speaking at a closely watched conference that the Kansas City Fed holds each year, used his remarks to explain that he thinks the Fed has met that test when it comes to inflation and is making “clear progress toward maximum employment.”
six million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. And the Delta variant could cause consumers and businesses to pull back as it foils return-to-office plans and threatens to shut down schools and child care centers. That could lead to a slower jobs rebound.
Mr. Powell made clear that the Fed wants to avoid overreacting to a recent burst in inflation that it believes will most likely prove temporary, because doing so could leave workers on the sidelines and weaken growth prematurely. While the Fed could start to remove one piece of its support, he emphasized that slowing bond purchases did not indicate that the Fed was prepared to raise rates.
“We have much ground to cover to reach maximum employment, and time will tell whether we have reached 2 percent inflation on a sustainable basis,” he said in his address to the conference, which was held online instead of its usual venue — Jackson Hole in Wyoming — because of the latest coronavirus wave.
The distinction he drew — between bond buying, which keeps financial markets chugging along, and rates, which are the Fed’s more traditional and arguably more powerful tool to keep money cheap and demand strong — sent an important signal that the Fed is going to be careful to let the economy heal more fully before really putting away its monetary tools, economists said.
told CNBC on Friday that he supported winding down the purchases “as quickly as possible.”
“Let’s start the taper, and let’s do it quickly,” he said. “Let’s not have this linger.”
James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said on Friday that the central bank should finish tapering by the end of the first quarter next year. If inflation starts to moderate then, the country will be in “great shape,” Mr. Bullard told Fox Business.
“If it doesn’t moderate, then I think the Fed is going to have to be more aggressive in 2022,” he said.
ushered in a new policy framework at last year’s Jackson Hole gathering that dictates a more patient approach, one that might guard against a similar overreaction.
But as Mr. Bullard’s comments reflected, officials may have their patience tested as inflation climbs.
The Fed’s preferred price gauge, the personal consumption expenditures index, rose 4.2 percent last month from a year earlier, according to Commerce Department data released on Friday. The increase was higher than the 4.1 percent jump that economists in a Bloomberg survey had projected, and the fastest pace since 1991. That is far above the central bank’s 2 percent target, which it tries to hit on average over time.
“The rapid reopening of the economy has brought a sharp run-up in inflation,” Mr. Powell said.
They warn that if the Fed overreacts to today’s inflationary burst, it could wind up with permanently weak inflation, much as Japan and Europe have.
White House economists sided with Mr. Powell’s interpretation in a new round of forecasts issued on Friday. In its midsession review of the administration’s budget forecasts, the Office of Management and Budget said it expected the Consumer Price Index inflation rate to hit 4.8 percent for the year. That is more than double the administration’s initial forecast of 2.1 percent.
initially expected. But they still insist that it will be short-lived and foresee inflation dropping to 2.5 percent in 2022. The White House also revised its forecast of growth for the year, to 7.1 percent from 5.2 percent.
Slow price gains sound like good news to anyone who buys oat milk and eggs, but they can set off a vicious downward cycle. Interest rates include inflation, so when it slows, Fed officials have less room to make money cheap to foster growth during times of trouble. That makes it harder for the economy to recover quickly from downturns, and long periods of weak demand drag prices even lower — creating a cycle of stagnation.
“While the underlying global disinflationary factors are likely to evolve over time, there is little reason to think that they have suddenly reversed or abated,” Mr. Powell said. “It seems more likely that they will continue to weigh on inflation as the pandemic passes into history.”
Mr. Powell offered a detailed explanation of the Fed’s scrutiny of prices, emphasizing that inflation is “so far” coming from a narrow group of goods and services. Officials are keeping an eye on data to make sure prices for durable goods like used cars — which have recently taken off — slow and even fall.
Mr. Powell said the Fed saw “little evidence” of wage increases that might threaten high and lasting inflation. And he pointed out that measures of inflation expectations had not climbed to unwanted levels, but had instead staged a “welcome reversal” of an unhealthy decline.
Still, his remarks carried a tone of watchfulness.
“We would be concerned at signs that inflationary pressures were spreading more broadly through the economy,” he said.
“Economists are not known for looking at the glass half full,” said Ms. Coronado.
(It is an enduring observation about her profession. Thomas Carlyle in the 19th century labeled the entire economics profession “the dismal science,” and given its ring of truth, the dreary title stuck.)
Besides inflation, economists are worrying about possible asset bubbles. Central bank officials including Robert S. Kaplan, head of the Dallas Fed, and James Bullard, head of the St. Louis branch, have warned that policymakers should be keeping a careful eye on rising real estate prices. And as Delta surges, analysts of all stripes are watching closely to ensure that it does not slow shopping, traveling and dining out — while worrying that it will.
The gray cloud that seems to hang over the profession might have a silver lining. It could be the case that by monitoring the risks around high inflation and watching for impending doom, the profession is setting up America for a more sustainable expansion down the road — one where government spending policy is more carefully crafted not to tax overextended industries, and where investors believe the Fed will act if needed, keeping exuberance in check.
Mr. Dutta, an eternal optimist who has a habit of releasing all-caps tirades against his profession’s endemic pessimism, thinks people could be a little bit more excited without overdoing it.
“THIS IS A CONSUMER SLOWDOWN??” he wrote in a recent note, pointing out that credit card spending data is holding up. He celebrated the last employment report, a robust reading, by titling it “JULY FIREWORKS.”
He points out that many people think the economy would be even stronger right now if supply bottlenecks weren’t holding back production and preventing spending. At least some of that spending will presumably eventually take place when those holdups clear, setting up for stronger future growth. Plus, he points out that people are making decisions that they would not if they had a glum future in mind: Families are buying houses, which he calls the “the most irreversible-decision asset.” Businesses are buying equipment.
He talks with an air of exasperation, like someone who has been right before. That is, in part, because he recently has been: Mr. Dutta, who has a bachelor’s from New York University but who lacks the fancy doctorates many of his counterparts claim, correctly argued that the economy would not slump headed into 2021, at a time when some Wall Street economists were looking for flat or even negative growth readings as infections surged.
Marvin Alexander, a makeup artist in New York City who decided to shift from the fashion industry to bridal during the depths of the pandemic, is also seeing lots of last-minute bookings, including from rescheduled weddings. The events are often more modest affairs, with smaller wedding parties and guest lists, in a nod to virus risks.
“I’m starting to see a few people being more comfortable about 2022, even with the Delta variant strong on our heels,” Mr. Alexander said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Magdalena Mieczkowska, a wedding planner, has seen demand in the Hudson Valley and Berkshires take off for big events in 2022. And clients are willing to spend: Her average was typically $100,000 per event, but now she’s seeing some weekends come in at $200,000 or more.
“People were postponing, and now they have more savings,” she said. Plus, vendors are charging more for catered meals and cutlery rentals. “Everyone is trying to make up for their financial losses from the 2020 season.”
Wedding industry experts said they expected demand to remain robust into 2023 before tapering back to normal, as new bookings vie for resources with delayed weddings like the one Ariana Papier, 31, and Andrew Jenzer, 32, held last weekend in Richmond, Mass., a town in the Berkshires.
The couple had to cancel their original June 6, 2020, date, opting to elope instead, but rescheduled the event to Aug. 7, complete with signature cocktails (a bush berry Paloma and an Earl Grey blackberry Old-Fashioned), a dance floor and s’mores.
“We’re calling it a vow renewal and celebration,” Ms. Papier said just ahead of the ceremony, adding it was the couple’s third attempted venue, thanks to pandemic hiccups.
Fed officials are willing to look past the elevated readings specifically because they are expected to be, as central bankers often say, “transitory.” They would worry more about a generalized, economywide pickup in prices that happens year after year, chipping away at consumer paychecks and potentially influencing how businesses and households live their economic lives.
But policymakers are still eager to see their expectation for an inflation slowdown borne out.
A “narrative for why the current supply and demand constraints might be expected to ease over time strikes me as a reasonable baseline,” Esther George, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, said in a speech Wednesday after the report, while emphasizing that the “narrative would be incomplete without acknowledging the risks.”
Ms. George pointed to the rise in coronavirus infections tied to the Delta variant, which could keep supply chains kinked, and to household savings, which could keep consumers spending strongly and economic conditions “tight.”
Economists have flagged other forces that could sustain inflation. Goldman Sachs noted in a recent research note that revised-down production schedules at automakers suggest that some price pressures in the car industry could last into the fall. Shipping experts report continued delays and cost increases, which could also feed into consumer prices.
And moderation alone is not enough to take the pressure off the Fed and White House: Policymakers need a substantial cool-down. July’s 0.5 percent monthly increase was less rapid than the 0.9 percent gain from May to June, but if the current pace continued for a year, inflation would pick up by nearly 6 percent on an annual basis. That could leave consumers with substantially less purchasing power.
Fed officials will be watching for signs that today’s price increases are getting locked into consumer and business expectations, which could make them more lasting.
Wage increases and inflation expectations offer key signals about the future of inflation. If pay takes off on a sustained basis, employers may find that they need to charge more to cover their expenses. Likewise, if consumers and businesses start to expect rapid price increases, they may be more willing to accept higher prices, setting off a self-fulfilling prophecy.
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.”
“I think first, this is an economic surrender that other countries are glad to go along with, as long as America is making itself that uncompetitive,” Mr. Brady said. “And secondly, I think there are too many competing interests here for them to finalize a deal that would be agreeable to Congress.”
Other nations must also determine how to turn their commitments into domestic law.
The mechanics of changing how the largest and most profitable companies are taxed, and of making exceptions for financial services, oil and gas businesses, will be central to the discussions. There are already concerns that carve-outs could lead to new tax loopholes.
Ms. Yellen, who is making her second international trip as Treasury secretary, will be holding bilateral meetings with many of her counterparts, including officials from Saudi Arabia, Japan, Turkey and Argentina. China, which signed on to the global minimum tax framework, is not expected to send officials to the gathering of finance ministers and central bank governors, so there will be no discussions between the world’s two largest economic powers.
Mr. Saint-Amans expressed optimism about the trajectory of the tax negotiations, which were on life support during the final year of the Trump administration, and attributed that largely to the new diplomatic approach from the United States.
“It took a U.S. election, and some work at the O.E.C.D.,” he said.
During the panel discussion on tax and climate change, Ms. Yellen’s counterparts said they appreciated the spirit of cooperation from the United States.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, said having the United States back at the table working to combat climate change was “welcome” and “transformative.” Mr. Le Maire thanked the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris Agreement.
“The U.S. is back,” he said.
Jim Tankersley contributed reporting from Washington, andLiz Alderman from Paris.