PITTSBURGH – Almost all recoveries from recession have included rapid employment growth – until now. Though advanced-country central banks have pursued expansionary monetary policy in the wake of the global economic crisis in an effort to boost demand, job creation has lagged. As a result, workers, increasingly convinced that they will be unable to find employment for a sustained period, are leaving the labor force in droves.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in the United States, where the Federal Reserve has reduced interest rates to unprecedented levels and, through quantitative easing (QE), augmented bank reserves by purchasing financial assets. But inflation – which rapid money-supply expansion inevitably fuels – has so far remained subdued, at roughly 2%, because banks are not using their swelling reserves to expand credit and increase liquidity. While this is keeping price volatility in check, it is also hindering employment growth.
Rather than changing its approach, however, the Fed has responded to slow employment growth by launching additional rounds of QE. Apparently, its rationale is that if expanding reserves by more than $2 trillion has not produced the desired results, adding $85 billion more monthly – another $1 trillion this year – might do the trick.
America’s central bankers need not search far to find out why QE is not working; evidence is published regularly for anyone to see. During QE2 (from November 2010 to July 2011), the Fed added a total of $557.9 billion to reserves, and excess reserves grew by $546.5 billion. That means that banks circulated only 2% of QE2’s contribution, leaving the rest idle. Similarly, since QE3 was launched last September, total bank reserves have grown by $244.1 billion, and excess reserves by $239.4 billion – meaning that 99% of the funds remain idle.