loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation costs and toys.

Americans found themselves with a lot of money in the bank, and as they spent that money on goods, demand collided with a global supply chain that was too fragile to catch up.

Virus outbreaks shut down factories, ports faced backlogs and a dearth of truckers roiled transit routes. Americans still managed to buy more goods than ever before in 2021, and foreign factories sent a record sum of products to U.S. shops and doorsteps. But all that shopping wasn’t enough to satisfy consumer demand.

stop spending at the start of the pandemic helped to swell savings stockpiles.

And the Federal Reserve’s interest rates are at rock bottom, which has bolstered demand for big purchases made on credit, from houses and cars to business investments like machinery and computers. Families have been taking on more housing and auto debt, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows, helping to pump up those sectors.

But if stimulus-driven demand is fueling inflation, the diagnosis could come with a silver lining. It may be easier to temper consumer spending than to rapidly reorient tangled supply lines.

People may naturally begin to buy less as government help fades. Spending could shift away from goods and back toward services if the pandemic abates. And the Fed’s policies work on demand — not supply.

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Your Inflation Questions, Answered

Inflation is high and has been for months. It’s weighing on consumer confidence, making policymakers nervous and threatening to eat away at household paychecks well into 2022.

This is the first time many adults have experienced meaningful inflation: Price gains had been largely quiescent since the late 1980s. When the Consumer Price Index climbed 7 percent in the year through December, it was the fastest pace since 1982.

Naturally, people have questions about what this will mean for their pocketbooks, their finances and their economic futures.

Closely intertwined with price worries are concerns about interest rates: The Federal Reserve is poised to raise borrowing costs to try to slow down demand and keep the situation under control.

furniture and camping gear.

That rapid consumption is running up against constrained supply. Factories shut down early in the pandemic, and in parts of Asia, they continue to do so as Omicron cases surge. There aren’t enough containers to ship all of the goods people want to buy, and ports have become clogged trying to process so many imports.

expanding their profits.

In theory, competition should eat away at extra earnings over time. New firms should jump into the market to sell that same products for less and steal away the customer. Existing competitors should ramp up production to meet demand.

But this may be a unappealing time for new firms to enter the market. Established companies may be hesitant to expand production if doing so involved a lot of investment, because it is not clear how long today’s strong demand will last.

“It is a very uncertain environment,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “A new firm stepping in is a lot of investment, with a lot of financial risk.”

Until companies can produce and transport enough of a given product to go around — as long as shortages remain — companies will be able to raise prices without running much risk of losing customers to a competitor.

In past periods of inflation, do employers typically increase wages or award higher-than-average yearly increases to help employees offset inflation? If so, in what industries is this practice most common? — Annmarie Kutz, Erie, Pa.

There is no standard historical experience with wages and inflation, Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said during an interview with The New York Times on Twitter Spaces last week.

lower-wage service industries have been competing mightily for workers in recent months, and pay is climbing faster there.

“The history isn’t so clear that cost of living translates into higher wages, but that’s largely because inflation has been low and stable for a very long time,” Ms. Daly said.

in December projected that price gains will drop back below 3 percent by the end of the year, and will level off to normal levels over the longer term.

are adjusted for inflation, so those should keep pace with price gains. Bonds that pay back fixed rates do less well during periods of inflation, while stock investments — though riskier — tend to rise more quickly than consumer prices. Ms. Benz recommends holding assets across an array of securities, potentially including inflation-protected securities such as some exchange-traded funds or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, commonly called TIPS.

“It argues against having too much in cash,” Ms. Benz said. “That’s too much dead money.”

We currently have low unemployment, strong wage growth (largely through attrition / voluntary retirements), easy monetary policy and now rising inflation. What are other periods of time when the United States had these conditions? How did things work out then? — Harshal Patel, Moorestown, N.J.

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, pointed to the post-World War II period as a reference point for the present moment.

“Demand was strong, and supply was constrained,” he said in an interview. “That’s a very instructive path for us.”

The good news about that example is that supply eventually caught up, and prices came down without spurring any greater crisis.

Other, more worried commentators have drawn parallels between now and the 1970s, when the Fed was slow to raise rates as unemployment fell and prices rose — and inflation jumped out of control. But many economists have argued that important differences separate that period from this one: Workers were more heavily unionized and may have had more bargaining power to push for higher wages back then, and the Fed was slow to react for years on end. This time, it’s already gearing up to respond.

about price controls in a recent article, and vocal minority think the 1970s experience unfairly tarnished the idea and that it might be worthwhile to reopen the debate.

“This is a great suppressed topic,” said James K. Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas. “It was absolutely mainstream from the start of World War II until the Reagan administration.”

If inflation is being caused by supply chain problems, how will raising interest rates help? — Larry Harris, Ventura, Calif.

Kristin J. Forbes, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that a big part of today’s inflation ties to roiled supply chains, which monetary policy can’t do much to fix.

But trade is actually happening at elevated levels even amid the disruptions. Factories are producing, ships are shipping, and consumers are buying at a rapid clip. It is just that supply is not keeping up with that booming demand. Higher interest rates can relieve pressure on demand, making it more expensive to buy a boat or a car, cooling off the housing market and slowing business investment.

“A good part of the supply chain problems, you can’t do anything about,” Ms. Forbes said. “But you can affect demand. And it is the combination of the two which determines inflation.”

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Biden Says Spending Bill Will Slow Inflation. But When?

Rocketing inflation has become a headache for U.S. consumers, and President Biden has a go-to prescription. He says a key way to help relieve increasing prices is to pass a $1.85 trillion collection of spending programs and tax cuts that is currently languishing in the Senate.

A wide range of economists agree with the president — but only in part. They generally accept his argument that in the long run, the bill and his infrastructure plan could make businesses and their workers more productive, which would help to ease inflation as more goods and services are produced across the economy.

But many researchers, including a forecasting firm that Mr. Biden often cites to support the economic benefits of his proposals, say the bill is structured in a way that could add to inflation next year, before prices have had time to cool off.

Some economists and lawmakers worry about the timing, arguing that the risk of fueling more inflation when it has reached record highs outweighs the potential benefits of passing a big spending bill that could help to keep prices in check while addressing other social goals. Prices have picked up by 6.2 percent over the past year, the fastest pace in 31 years and far above the Federal Reserve’s inflation target.

Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, has questioned whether high and rising prices should persuade lawmakers to tone down their ambitions.

“West Virginians are concerned about rising inflation,” he said on Twitter last week. “We cannot throw caution to the wind & continue to pile on debt that our country can’t afford.”

Democrats preparing to push it to a House vote as early as next week. But timing is uncertain in the Senate, where a vote is likely to be changed or delayed in response to Mr. Manchin’s concerns.

The extent to which Mr. Biden’s $1.85 trillion bill exacerbates inflation largely depends on how much it stimulates the economy and whether Americans increase their spending as a result of the legislation — and when all of that occurs.

Many economists say it could create a short-term stimulus because the plan is structured to raise money gradually by taxing wealthier Americans, who are less likely to spend each additional dollar they have, and redistribute it quickly to people who earn less and are more likely to spend newfound cash.

Because of the difference in timing between when the government spends money and when it starts to bring in more revenue, the bill is expected to pump money into the economy in its early years. Moody’s Analytics — the firm that the White House typically cites when arguing in favor of its legislation — estimates that the government will spend $163 billion more on the package than it takes in next year. And the redistribution could make the money more potent as economic stimulus.

“The spending is designed to go to the people who are more likely to spend it than to save it,” said Ben Ritz, the director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future. But more than any specific program, “the bigger inflationary issue is the math.”

White House economists have countered those arguments. If the bill passes, they say, it would do relatively little to spur increased consumer spending next year and not nearly enough to fully offset the loss of government stimulus to the economy as pandemic aid expires. That the program spends more heavily next year is a feature, they say, because it will partly blunt the economic drag as fiscal help fades. They note that the bill is intended to be offset completely by tax increases and other revenue savings.

And they argue that by increasing the economy’s capacity to churn out goods and services, the president’s infrastructure plan and his broader program could both help to moderate costs over time.

Mr. Summers has argued.

There is less economic or political debate about Mr. Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which cleared Congress last week and which the president will sign on Monday. Economists — including conservative ones — largely agree that it is likely to eventually expand the capacity of the economy, and that it is small and spread out enough that it will not meaningfully fuel faster inflation in the near term.

Among Democrats, there is widespread support for the economic ambitions contained in the administration’s broader spending bill, which aims to create more equity for low- and middle-class earners and a bigger safety net for working parents. But the measure is drawing more complicated reviews when it comes to its immediate effect on inflation.

Economists at Moody’s found in a recent analysis that the administration’s full agenda would slightly increase inflation in 2022, though they did not expect the program to ultimately raise it because of benefits that would later ease supply constraints. It estimates that with the infrastructure bill alone, inflation will be running at a 2.1 percent annual rate by the final quarter of next year. If the larger spending bill also passes, that grows to 2.5 percent.

But Moody’s baseline assumption that inflation will moderate by the end of next year is relatively optimistic. Bank of America’s economics team said that core consumer prices would still rise at a 3.2 percent rate at the end of next year, incorporating the assumption that Mr. Biden’s plan passes.

companies scramble for workers, prices rise and supply chains struggle to keep pace with booming demand, this is the wrong moment to hit the economy with any added juice.

“We don’t have a lot of spare capacity,” said Kristin J. Forbes, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We certainly don’t have a lot of spare workers today.”

Inflation looms more significantly in the near term because it is currently high, and if it remains that way for an extended period, consumers could change their behaviors and expectations, locking in faster gains. People who worry about the proposals say that 2022 is the wrong time to hand households more money.

Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said she was unsure whether the package would fuel inflation. But given the current pace of price increases, “you have to be more careful than you would be otherwise.”

The White House says the provisions of the bill that put money in families’ pockets, such as child care help, are not simple stimulus. They will allow caregivers into the labor market, they argue, an investment in the economy’s future that will allow it to produce more with time.

That makes the new program different from the spending passed earlier this year. The Biden administration increasingly acknowledges that sending households checks and offering expanded unemployment insurance supplemented savings, and that as households had more wherewithal to spend it helped to drive up prices.

Mr. Biden said in Baltimore on Wednesday. But the White House contends that this program is not the same as the previous package, and that it will make the price situation better, not worse.

“According to the economic experts, this bill is going to ease inflationary pressures,” the president said on Wednesday.

Still, the 17 Nobel Prize-winning economists that the White House regularly cites have specified that capacity improvements will ease inflation over time rather than imminently.

“Because this agenda invests in long-term economic capacity and will enhance the ability of more Americans to participate productively in the economy,” they wrote, “it will ease longer-term inflationary pressures.”

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Persistent Inflation Threatens Biden’s Agenda

WASHINGTON — At least once a week, a team of President Biden’s top advisers meet on Zoom to address the nation’s supply chain crisis. They discuss ways to relieve backlogs at America’s ports, ramp up semiconductor production for struggling automakers and swell the ranks of truck drivers.

The conversations are aimed at one goal: taming accelerating price increases that are hurting the economic recovery, unsettling American consumers and denting Mr. Biden’s popularity.

An inflation surge is presenting a fresh challenge for Mr. Biden, who for months insisted that rising prices were a temporary hangover from the pandemic recession and would quickly recede. Instead, the president and his aides are now bracing for high inflation to persist into next year, with Americans continuing to see faster — and sustained — increases in prices for food, gasoline and other consumer goods than at any point this century.

That reality has complicated Mr. Biden’s push for sweeping legislation to boost workers, expand access to education and fight poverty and climate change. And it is dragging on the president’s approval ratings, which could threaten Democrats’ already tenuous hold on Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

CNBC and Fox News show a sharp decline in voter ratings of Mr. Biden’s overall performance and his handling of the economy, even though unemployment has fallen quickly on his watch and economic output has strengthened to its fastest rate since Ronald Reagan was president. Voter worry over price increases has jumped in the last month.

via executive actions.

“There are distinct challenges from turning the economy back on after the pandemic that we are bringing together state and local officials, the private sector and labor to address — so that prices decrease,” Kate Berner, the White House deputy communications director, said in an interview.

Mr. Biden’s top officials stress that the administration’s policies have helped accelerate America’s economic rebound. Workers are commanding their largest wage gains in two decades. Growth roared back in the first half of the year, fueled by the $1.9 trillion economic aid bill the president signed in March. America’s expansion continues to outpace other wealthy nations around the world.

Inflation has risen in wealthy nations across the globe, as the pandemic has hobbled the movement of goods and component parts between countries. Virus-wary consumers have shifted their spending toward goods rather than services, travel and tourism remain depressed, and energy prices have risen as demand for fuel and electricity has surged amid the resumption of business activity and some weather shocks linked to climate change.

But some economists, including veterans of previous Democratic administrations, say much of Mr. Biden’s inflation struggle is self-inflicted. Lawrence H. Summers is one of those who say the stimulus bill the president signed in March gave too much of a boost to consumer spending, at a time when the supply-chain disruptions have made it hard for Americans to get their hands on the things they want to buy. Mr. Summers, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations, says inflation now risks spiraling out of control and other Democratic economists agree there are risks.

“The original sin was an oversized American Rescue Plan. It contributed to both higher output but also higher prices,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist who chaired the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama.

That has some important Democrats worried about price-related drawbacks from the president’s ambitious spending package, complicating Mr. Biden’s approach.

ease the pain of high-profile price spikes, like gasoline. Some in his administration have pushed for mobilizing the National Guard to help unclog ports that are stacked with imports waiting to be delivered to consumers around the country. Mr. Biden has raised the possibility of tapping the strategic petroleum reserve to modestly boost oil supplies, or of negotiating with oil producers in the Middle East to ramp up.

During a CNN town hall last week, Mr. Biden conceded the limits of his power, saying, “I don’t have a near-term answer” for bringing down gas prices, which he does not expect to begin dropping until next year.

“I don’t see anything that’s going to happen in the meantime that’s going to significantly reduce gas prices,” he said.

Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that she expects improvement in the overall inflation rate “by the middle to end of next year, second half of next year.”

With an American public that had gone nearly 40 years without seeing — or worrying — about inflation, the issue provides an opening for the opposition. Republicans have turned price spikes into a weapon against Mr. Biden’s economic policies, warning that more spending would exacerbate the pain for everyday Americans.

“It’s everywhere,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, in an interview. “You can’t live your life without seeing your paycheck buy less.”

White House officials have monitored inflationary pressure for months. They remain convinced, as they were in April, that price increases will not spiral out of control and force abrupt interest-rate increases from the Federal Reserve that could slam the brakes on growth.

The president and his top advisers remain confident that price growth will start to fall well before the midterms. They defend the size of the rescue plan and say Americans are focused on inflation right now because the success of the stimulus bill accelerated economic and employment growth and took a larger issue — the availability of jobs for people who want them — off the table.

“It is a highly incomplete view to try to assess the economy, and even people’s views about the economy, by looking at inflation alone,” Jared Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “You also have to appreciate the robustness of the expansion, and how it’s lifting job and earnings opportunities.”

Mr. Bernstein and other advisers say many of the causes of inflation are already improving. They point to calculations by Mark Zandi, a Moody’s Analytics economist, that suggest Americans who have left the labor force will begin flocking back into the job market by December or January, because they will likely have exhausted their savings by then.

The advisers are also continuing to explore more actions they could take, including efforts to increase the number of truck drivers near ports and to force lower prices and more competition in the food industry.

“We are always all in on everything,” Ms. Berner said.

To which many officials add a caveat: Almost anything the White House could do now will take time to push prices down.

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Amid Economic Turmoil, Biden Stays Focused on Longer Term

Administration officials express confidence that recent price surges in used cars, airfare and other sectors of the economy will prove temporary, and that job growth will speed up again as more working-aged Americans are vaccinated against Covid-19 and regain access to child care during work hours. They say Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic aid package, which he signed in March, will lift job growth in the coming months, noting that new claims for unemployment fell to a pandemic-era low on Thursday.

The officials also said it was appropriate for the president to look past the current crisis and push efforts to strengthen the economy long term.

The two halves of Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion agenda, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, are premised on the economy returning to a low unemployment rate where essentially every American who wants to work is able to find a job, Cecilia Rouse, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview.

“The American Rescue Plan was rescue,” Dr. Rouse said. “It was meant as stimulus as we work through this hopefully once-in-a-century, if not longer, pandemic. The American Jobs Plan, American Families Plan are saying, look, that’s behind us, but we knew going into the pandemic that there were structural problems in our country and in our economy.”

Mr. Biden’s plans would raise taxes on high earners and corporations to fund new federal spending on physical infrastructure, care for children and older Americans, expanded access to education, an accelerated transition to low-carbon energy and more.

Those efforts “reflect the empirical evidence that a strong economy depends on a solid foundation of public investment, and that investments in workers, families and communities can pay off for decades to come,” Mr. Biden’s advisers wrote. “These plans are not emergency legislation; they address longstanding challenges.”

The five-page brief focuses on arguments about what drives productivity, wage growth, innovation and equity in the economy. The issues predate the coronavirus recession and recovery, and Democrats in particular have pledged for years to address them.

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Biden and Republicans Spar Over Unemployment as Job Gains Disappoint

WASHINGTON — The disappointing jobs report released Friday by the Labor Department is posing the greatest test yet of President Biden’s strategy to revive the economy, with business groups and Republicans warning that the president’s policies are causing a labor shortage and that his broader agenda risks stoking runaway inflation.

But the Biden administration showed no signs on Friday of changing course, with the president defending the more generous jobless benefits included in the $1.9 trillion bill he signed into law in March and saying the $4 trillion in spending he proposed for infrastructure, child care, education and other measures would help create more and better-paying jobs after the pandemic.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden urged “perspective” on the report, which showed only 266,000 new jobs added in April. He said it would take time for his aid bill to fully reinvigorate the economy and hailed the more than 1.5 million jobs added since he took office. And he rejected what he called “loose talk that Americans just don’t want to work.”

“The data shows that more workers are looking for jobs,” he said, “and many can’t find them.”

Republicans cast the report as a sign of failure for Mr. Biden’s policies, even though job creation has accelerated since Mr. Biden replaced President Donald J. Trump in the White House. They called on his administration to end the $300 weekly unemployment supplement, while several Republican governors — including those in Arkansas, Montana and South Carolina — moved to end the benefit for unemployed people in their states, citing worker shortages.

relief money to subsidize tax cuts, which could further slow the rollout.

Mr. Biden said at the White House that the administration would begin releasing the first batch of money to state and local governments this month. He said the money would not restore all of the lost jobs in one month, “but you’re going to start seeing those jobs in state and local workers coming back.”

The administration also took steps on Friday to get money out the door more quickly, saying the Treasury Department would release $21.6 billion of rental assistance that was included in the pandemic relief legislation to provide additional support to millions of people who could be facing eviction in the coming months.

Officials said they expected increased vaccination rates to ease some lingering fears about returning to jobs in the pandemic. The number of Americans 18 to 64 who are fully vaccinated grew by 22 million from mid-April, when the survey for the jobs report was conducted, to Friday. That was an acceleration from the previous month. Some White House officials said the administration’s push to further increase the ranks of the vaccinated could be the most important policy variable for the economy this summer.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, speaking at the White House, said that a lack of child care related to irregular school schedules was making it a challenge to get the labor market back to full strength. She also said that health concerns about the pandemic were holding back some workers who might return to the market.

“I don’t think that the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that’s making the difference,” Ms. Yellen said.

She said that she believed the labor market was healthier than the figures released on Friday suggested, but she allowed that the economic recovery would take time.

“We’ve had a very unusual hit to our economy,” Ms. Yellen said, “and the road back is going to be somewhat bumpy.”

Ms. Boushey and Mr. Bernstein said that it appeared the economy was working through a variety of rapid changes related to the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions that have hurt automobile manufacturing by reducing the availability of semiconductor chips and businesses beginning to rehire after a year of depressed activity because of the virus.

“It’s our view that these misalignments and bottlenecks are transitory,” Mr. Bernstein said, “and they’re what you expect from an economy going from shutdown to reopening.”

Other key economic officials treated the report as a sign that the labor recovery ahead is likely to prove wildly unpredictable. Robert S. Kaplan, the president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, said in an interview that his economics team had warned him that the April report might show a significant slowdown as shortages of materials — including lumber and computer chips — and labor bit into employment growth.

He said he was hoping to see those supply bottlenecks cleared up, but he was watching carefully in case they did not resolve quickly.

“It shows me that getting the unemployment rate down and moving forward to improved employment to population is going to have fits and starts,” Mr. Kaplan said. He noted that sectors that were struggling to acquire materials, like manufacturing, shed jobs, and he said leisure and hospitality companies would have added more positions if not for challenges in finding labor.

“It’s just one jobs report,” cautioned Tom Barkin, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, in Virginia. But he said labor supply issues could be at play: Some people may have retired, others may have health concerns, and unemployment insurance could be encouraging low-paid workers to stay at home or allowing them to come back on their own terms.

“I get the feeling that people are being choosy,” Mr. Barkin said. “The first question I have in my mind is — is it temporary or is it more structural?”

He said that the supply constraints playing out were likely to fade over time, and that while businesses complain about rising input costs and might have to raise entry-level wages somewhat, he struggled to see that leading to much higher inflation — the kind that would worry the Fed.

The Fed is trying to achieve maximum employment and stable inflation around 2 percent on average. It has pledged to keep its cheap-money policies, which make borrowing inexpensive, in place until it sees realized progress toward those goals.

Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said the payrolls disappointment vindicated the Fed’s slow-moving stance.

“I feel very good about our policy approach, which is outcome-based,” Mr. Kashkari said, speaking on a Bloomberg television interview shortly after the report came out. “Let’s actually allow the labor market to recover, let’s not just forecast that it’s going to recover.”

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Biden and Republicans spar over unemployment as the jobs report disappoints.

“The data shows that more workers are looking for jobs, and many can’t find them,” he said.

Asked directly by a reporter if he believed the enhanced benefits had any effect on the job gains, Mr. Biden replied, “No, nothing measurable.”

Administration officials stress that the monthly employment numbers are volatile and subject to revision and that the average gain over the last three months remains well above the pace of job creation that Mr. Biden inherited when he took office in January. They say any clogs in the labor market are likely to be temporary and that the recovery will smooth out once more working-age Americans are fully vaccinated.

“This is progress,” Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “We are adding an average of over 500,000 jobs a month” over the last three months, she said. “That’s evidence that our approach is working, that the president’s approach is working. It also emphasizes the steep climb coming out of this crisis.”

Ms. Boushey and Jared Bernstein, another member of the council, both said they saw no evidence in the monthly report that expanded unemployment benefits were deterring Americans from going back to work. They pointed to a gain of 300,000 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector and to a falling number of workers who told the department they had left the labor force out of concern over contracting Covid-19.

Ms. Boushey and Mr. Bernstein said it appeared the economy was working through a variety of rapid changes related to the pandemic, including supply chain disruptions that have hurt automobile manufacturing by reducing the availability of semiconductor chips and businesses beginning to rehire after a year of depressed activity from the virus.

“It’s our view that these misalignments and bottlenecks are transitory,” Mr. Bernstein said, “and they’re what you expect from an economy going from shutdown to reopening.”

The chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, stressed the potential uncertainties in interpreting data from the pandemic in a blog post analyzing the report. “There is often month-to-month volatility in the jobs numbers,” she wrote. “However, the same ‘amount’ of volatility is more striking when the volume of changes is larger, as it has been during the pandemic.”

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Biden’s Spending Plans Could Start to Tackle Inequality

The coronavirus pandemic has threatened to rapidly expand yawning gaps between the rich and the poor, throwing lower-earning service workers out of jobs, costing them income, and limiting their ability to build wealth. But by betting on big government spending to pull the economy back from the brink, United States policymakers could limit that fallout.

The $1.9 trillion economic aid package President Biden signed into law last month includes a wide range of programs with the potential to help poor and middle-class Americans to supplement lost income and save money going forward. That includes monthly payments to parents, relief for renters and help with student loans.

Now, the administration is rolling out additional plans that would go even further, including a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package and about $1.5 trillion in spending and tax credits to support the labor force by investing in child care, paid leave, universal prekindergarten and free community college. The measures are explicitly meant to help left-behind workers and communities of color who have faced systemic racism and entrenched disadvantages — and they would be funded, in part, by taxes on the rich.

Forecasters predict that the government spending — even just what has been passed so far — will fuel what could be the fastest annual economic growth in a generation this year and next, as the country recovers and the economy reopens from the Covid-19 pandemic. By jump-starting the economy from the bottom and middle, the response could make sure the pandemic rebound is more equitable than it would be without a proactive government response, analysts said.

disproportionately hurt women of all races and men of color, she said, “If we tailor the relief to those who are most affected, we are going to be addressing racial and ethnic gaps.”

From its first days, the pandemic set the stage for a K-shaped economy, one in which the rich worked from home without much income disruption as poorer people struggled. Workers in low-paying service jobs were far more likely to lose jobs, and among racial groups, Black people have experienced a much slower labor market rebound than their white counterparts. Globally, the downturn probably put 50 million people who otherwise would have qualified as middle class into lower income levels, based on one recent Pew Research analysis.

But data suggest the U.S. policy response — including relief legislation that passed under the Trump administration last year — has helped to mitigate the pain.

“The CARES Act to the American Rescue plan have helped to support more households than I would have imagined,” Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told reporters during a call earlier this month, referring to the early 2020 and early 2021 pandemic relief packages.

across the board after slumping early last year, foreclosures have remained low, and household consumption has been shored up by repeated stimulus checks.

While the era has been fraught with uncertainty and people have slipped through the cracks, this downturn looks very different for poorer Americans than the post-financial crisis period. That recession ended in 2009, and America’s wealthiest households recovered precrisis wealth levels by 2012, while it took until 2017 for the poorest to do the same.

income inequality — the gap between how much the poor and the rich earn each year — might soon decline. Lower income inequality could, in theory, lead to lower wealth inequality over time, as households have the wherewithal save more evenly.

start of 2007, the bottom half of the wealth distribution held 2.1 percent of the nation’s riches, compared to 29.7 percent for the top 1 percent. By the start of 2020, the bottom half had 1.8 percent, while the top 1 percent held 31 percent.

Researchers debate whether monetary policy actually worsens wealth divides in the long run — especially since there’s the hairy question of what would have happened had the Fed not acted — but monetary policymakers generally agree that their policies can’t stop a pre-existing trend toward ever-worse wealth inequality.

By offering a more targeted boost from the very start of the recovery, fiscal policy can. Or, at a minimum, it can prevent wealth gaps from deepening so much.

Monetary policy “is naturally trickle-down,” said Joseph Stiglitz, an economist at Columbia and Nobel laureate. “Fiscal policy can work from the bottom and middle up.”

That’s what the Biden administration is gambling on. Paired with packages from December and last April, Congress’s recent package will bring the amount of economic relied that Congress has approved during the pandemic to more than $5 trillion. That dwarfs the amount spent in the last recovery.

The legislation is a mosaic of tax credits, stimulus checks and small business support that could leave families at the lower end of the income and savings distribution with more money in the bank and, if its provisions work as advertised, with a better chance of getting back to work early in the recovery.

There is no guarantee Mr. Biden’s broader economic proposals, totaling about $4 trillion, will clear a narrowly divided Congress. Republicans have balked at his plans and this week offered a counterproposal on infrastructure that is only a fraction the size of what Mr. Biden wants to spend. A bipartisan group of House moderates is pushing the president to finance infrastructure spending through an increased gas tax or something similar, which hits the poor harder than the rich.

Still, the president’s new proposals could have long-term impacts, working to retool workers’ skills and lift communities of color in hopes of putting the economy on more equal footing. The president is set to outline his so-called American Family Plan, which is focused on the work force, before his first address to a joint session of Congress next week.

While details have yet to be finalized, programs like universal prekindergarten, expanded subsidies for child care and a national paid leave program would be paid for partly by raising taxes on investors and rich Americans. That could also affect the wealth distribution, shuffling savings from the rich to the poor.

The plan, which must win support in a Congress where Democrats have just a narrow margin, would raise the top marginal income tax rate to 39.6 percent from 37 percent, and raise taxes on capital gains — the proceeds of selling an asset, like a stock — for people making more than $1 million to 39.6 percent from 20 percent. Counting in an Obamacare-related tax, the taxes they pay on profits would rise above 43 percent.

The new policies won’t necessarily cut wealth inequality, which has been on an inexorable upward march for decades, but they could keep poorer households from falling behind by as much as they would have otherwise.

Betting big on fiscal policy to return the economy to strength is a gamble. If the economy overheats, as some prominent economists have warned it could, the Fed might have to rapidly lift interest rates to cool things down. Rapid adjustments have historically caused recessions, which consistently throw vulnerable groups out of jobs first.

But administration officials have repeatedly said the bigger risk is underdoing it, leaving millions on the labor market’s sidelines to struggle through another tepid recovery. And they say the spending provisions in both the rescue package and the infrastructure could help to fix longstanding divides along racial and gender lines.

“We think of investment in racial equity, and equity in general, as good policy, period, and integral to all the work we do,” Catherine Lhamon, a deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council, said in an interview.

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Biden Plan Spurs Fight Over What ‘Infrastructure’ Really Means

“Many people in the states would be surprised to hear that broadband for rural areas no longer counts,” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden in the White House. “We think that the people in Jackson, Miss., might be surprised to hear that fixing that water system doesn’t count as infrastructure. We think the people of Texas might disagree with the idea that the electric grid isn’t infrastructure that needs to be built with resilience for the 21st century.”

White House officials said that much of Mr. Biden’s plan reflected the reality that infrastructure had taken on a broader meaning as the nature of work changes, focusing less on factories and shipping goods and more on creating and selling services.

Other economists back the idea that the definition has changed.

Dan Sichel, an economics professor at Wellesley College and a former Federal Reserve research official, said it could be helpful to think of what comprises infrastructure as a series of concentric circles: a basic inner band made up of roads and bridges, a larger social ring of schools and hospitals, then a digital layer including things like cloud computing. There could also be an intangible layer, like open-source software or weather data.

“It is definitely an amorphous concept,” he said, but basically “we mean key economic assets that support and enable economic activity.”

The economy has evolved since the 1950s: Manufacturers used to employ about a third of the work force but now count for just 8.5 percent of jobs in the United States. Because the economy has changed, it is important that our definitions are updated, Mr. Sichel said.

The debate over the meaning of infrastructure is not new. In the days of the New Deal-era Tennessee Valley Authority, academics and policymakers sparred over whether universal access to electricity was necessary public infrastructure, said Shane M. Greenstein, an economist at Harvard Business School whose recent research focuses on broadband.

“Washington has an attention span of several weeks, and this debate is a century old,” he said. These days, he added, it is about digital access instead of clean water and power.

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