Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, told lawmakers that the economic rebound from the pandemic recession had further to go and reiterated that the central bank planned to keep up its growth-stoking policies, which include rock-bottom interest rates and large-scale bond buying.
“The economic recovery remains uneven and far from complete, and the path ahead is highly uncertain,” Mr. Powell said in prepared remarks he delivered to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday. “Although there has been much progress in the labor market since the spring, millions of Americans remain out of work.”
Unemployment has come down sharply after surging last year, but the official jobless rate remains at nearly double its February 2020 level and probably understates the extent of weakness in the labor market. Likewise, consumer spending has bounced back but the service sector remains subdued.
The Fed slashed interest rates to near-zero last March and is buying about $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies aimed at fueling lending and spending. Congress and the White House have also provided support in the form of enormous spending packages, and Democrats are now pushing for another $1.9 trillion in relief for workers and businesses.
Some economists have warned that inflation could take off as vaccines allow consumer activity to pick up and as the government pumps money into the economy, but Fed officials have generally played down those concerns. Mr. Powell said on Tuesday that inflation dynamics generally do not “change on a dime” and that if unwanted price pressures arise, the Fed has the tools to push back on them.
For now, “the economy is a long way from our employment and inflation goals, and it is likely to take some time for substantial further progress to be achieved,” Mr. Powell said, reiterating a pledge to keep up buying bonds at the current pace until “substantial further progress” has been made.
Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, asked whether the Fed’s policies might be fueling higher asset prices. Mr. Powell acknowledged that there was a “link” but said “many factors” were contributing.
And Mr. Toomey pressed Mr. Powell on what would happen to the Fed’s bond-buying plans if inflation moved up before full employment was achieved, prompting Mr. Powell to reiterate that the Fed was looking for more progress before dialing back purchases.
Mr. Powell said at one point that he would avoid weighing in on fiscal policy — a comment he made not long after Mr. Toomey said the central bank should avoid moving beyond its narrow economic mandate and into areas like racial inequity and climate change. The Fed is politically…