Dec 15, 2021 - Economy

U.S. on the cusp of full employment

Fed chair Jerome Powell during a livestreamed news conference. Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The nation's top economic policymaker all but said it Wednesday: America is on the cusp of full employment.

The big picture: "The labor market by many measures is hotter than it ever was" before the pandemic, Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell told reporters.

Why it matters: It came as the Fed is pulling back on the policies that underpinned the pandemic-era economic and financial market boom as it wages a war to beat back the hottest inflation in almost four decades.

What's new: The Fed will speed up the withdrawal of a form of economic aid and signaled that the era of ultra-low borrowing costs will end earlier (possibly as soon as springtime), as Axios' Kate Marino reports.

The intrigue: The labor market looks much different than the last time it notched full employment before the pandemic by a number of measures — namely, as the virus rages, there are over 2 million fewer workers in the job market compared to pre-pandemic times. It’s fueled the worker shortage and held down the recovery.

  • "We're not going back to the same economy that we had in February 2020," Powell said, noting those workers could be slow to return.

What to watch: Fed officials predict by next year the unemployment rate will match the 50-year low reached before the pandemic.

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