Fed Up with the Fed

NEW YORK – At the end of every August, central bankers and financiers from around the world meet in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for the US Federal Reserve’s economic symposium. This year, the participants were greeted by a large group of mostly young people, including many African- and Hispanic Americans.

The group was not there so much to protest as to inform. They wanted the assembled policymakers to know that their decisions affect ordinary people, not just the financiers who are worried about what inflation does to the value of their bonds or what interest-rate hikes might do to their stock portfolios. And their green tee shirts were emblazoned with the message that for these Americans, there has been no recovery.

Even now, seven years after the global financial crisis triggered the Great Recession, “official” unemployment among African-Americans is more than 9%. According to a broader (and more appropriate) definition, which includes part-time employees seeking full-time jobs and marginally employed workers, the unemployment rate for the United States as a whole is 10.3%. But, for African-Americans – especially the young – the rate is much higher. For example, for African-Americans aged 17-20 who have graduated high school but not enrolled in college, the unemployment rate is over 50%. The “jobs gap” – the difference between today’s employment and what it should be – is some three million.

With so many people out of work, downward pressure on wages is showing up in official statistics as well. So far this year, real wages for non-supervisory workers fell by nearly 0.5%. This is part of a long-term trend that explains why household incomes in the middle of the distribution are lower than they were a quarter-century ago.