Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why the labor market is tighter than you think

As the FOMC meets this week, one key question for Fed policy makers is, "How tight is the labor market?" A related question is, "In the face of tame inflation statistics, when are we going to see evidence of rising wage growth?"

Both questions are important for monetary policy. The New York Times had an article that lamented the lack of inflation. The WSJ reported late last week that, in effect, the Fed has no idea of what is going on with inflation:
The Federal Reserve is likely to stand pat on policy when it concludes a two-day meeting next week, but it faces a debate about the future path of interest-rate increases because of a deepening puzzle over inflation.

Officials will likely leave short-term rates unchanged and wait until September before announcing plans to slowly shrink their $4.5 trillion portfolio of bonds and other assets.

They face a dilemma, however, because the two sets of economic indicators they most closely monitor are sending conflicting signals about the urgency of additional rate increases.

The unemployment rate, which hit a 16-year low in May, shows labor markets are tightening. That argues for the Fed to keep lifting interest rates to prevent the economy from overheating. But inflation is drifting away from the central bank’s 2% target, suggesting borrowing costs should stay low to strengthen price pressures.
I recently highlighted analysis from Adam Ozimek of Moody's Analytics showing that there is no wage growth mystery. Ozimek found that the Phillips Curve, which postulates a trade-off between unemployment and inflation, is alive and well once he substituted the prime age non-employment rate for the unemployment rate (also see my recent post In search of the elusive inflation surge).

Using this analytical framework, the Fed is on the right track in normalizing monetary policy. Additional data indicates that the labor market is tighter than the market consensus, and a rise in inflation is just around the corner.

The full post can be found at our new site here.

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