The Risks to America’s Booming Economy

CAMBRIDGE – After a long and slow recovery from the recession that began a decade ago, the United States economy is now booming. The labor market is at full employment, the inflation rate is rising, and households are optimistic. Manufacturing firms and homebuilders are benefiting from increasing activity. The economy is poised for stronger growth in the year ahead. We no longer hear worries about secular stagnation.

The overall unemployment rate is just 4.7%, while unemployment among college graduates is only 2.4%. Average hourly earnings are 2.8% higher than they were a year ago. The tight labor market and rising wages are inducing some individuals who had stopped looking for work to return to the labor force, boosting the participation rate.

A clear indication that the economy is at full employment is that the rate of inflation is increasing. The “core” consumer price index (which omits volatile energy and food prices) has reached an annual rate of 2.2%, substantially higher than the 1.8% average during the previous three years. During the most recent three months, core inflation rose at a 2.8% annual rate.

Household wealth is also increasing. The price of homes, the most important asset for US households, rose by 5% during the most recent 12 months. The rising stock market has caused the broader measure of net worth to increase even faster.