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Fed Rate Debate Focuses on Jobless

Wall Street Journal (06/19/14) Jon Hilsenrath; Victoria McGrane

Nearly 80% of those who became long-term unemployed during the worst period of the downturn have since migrated to the fringes of the job market, rarely seeking work, taking part-time posts, or bouncing between unsteady jobs. Only one in five has returned to lasting full-time work since 2008. The plight of these millions is now at the center of a debate among top U.S. officials over how to spur jobs without stirring inflation.

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday concludes a two-day meeting to discuss the economy and the future of Fed interest rates. Fed officials are trying to determine if they should keep trying to spur economic growth and hiring by holding short-term interest rates near zero. The concern among some is that those low rates will eventually spark inflation without helping those long out of work. Former Obama White House economic adviser Alan Krueger and some Fed researchers see the exodus as proof the pool of available labor is smaller than many think. If millions have drifted to the sidelines of the workforce, that would contribute to higher wage growth and greater inflationary pressure. The other view, embraced by Fed chairman Janet Yellen and some other Fed economists, believes these millions can be drawn back into steady work if the economy strengthens. They thus represent a hidden supply of labor that will keep inflation down.