US labour market remains hampered, says chair of Federal Reserve

Janet Yellen tells conference of ongoing difficulty despite gains made in recent years

US Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen tells conference slack remains in labour market following “the largest and most sustained loss of employment” since the Great Depression. Photograph: Reuters

US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has said slack remains in the US labor market even after gains made during the five years of economic recovery.

In an anticipated speech at the Kansas City Fed's annual economics conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming today, Ms Yellen said: "The economy has made considerable progress in recovering from the largest and most sustained loss of employment" since the Great Depression,

Even so, she underscored the Federal Open Market Committee statement last month that "under-utilisation of labor resources still remains significant."

Her remarks appeared in line with the message from minutes of the July FOMC meeting, which showed officials growing more aware that labor markets are approaching full employment.


Still, pinpointing a full recovery in the job market is difficult given the “depth of the damage” from the recession, she said.

Her speech walked through the arguments of how much slack might be related to weak demand as opposed to more permanent trends.

“Significant structural factors have affected the labor market, including the aging of the workforce and other demographic trends, possible changes in the underlying degree of dynamism in the labor market, and the phenomenon of ‘polarisation’ - that is, the reduction in the relative number of middle-skill jobs,” she said.

Treasuries stocks remained lower after her remarks. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index declined 0.1 per cent to 1,990.56 by 10 am in New York.

The yield on the 10-year treasury note was little changed at 2.41 per cent.

For some of the so-called structural changes, she presented a counter-argument on why they could also represent cyclical trends.

Disability applications may reflect “perceptions of poor job prospects,” she said.

Bad job opportunities may have brought forward retirements, she said, and so the aging workforce may contribute less to declining labor participation in future years.

Minutes of the July meeting released August 20th showed some Fed officials “were increasingly uncomfortable” with the FOMC’s forward guidance.

Yellen has said the central bank has no “mechanical answer” for when to raise rates, and that before doing so policy makers must be certain the economy is on a solid footing.

Most Fed officials forecast they will need to raise the benchmark rate sometime next year after holding it near zero since December 2008.

The median estimate of policy makers released after their June meeting shows they project a rise to 1.13 per cent at the end of 2015 and to 2.5 per cent a year later.

FOMC participants will release their next set of quarterly projections on growth, employment, inflation and the rate outlook after the next meeting on September 16th and 17th, which will also be followed by a press conference.