The job market is still in horrible shape, and the Fed will probably, finally, do something about it very soon.
In a highly anticipated speech at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Friday morning, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke described "the daunting economic challenges that confront our nation," particularly the labor market.
Bernanke suggested the Fed could and should help fight unemployment, in language that all but promised the Fed would act -- perhaps within a matter of weeks.
"This is another clear sign that the Fed is ready to provide more policy stimulus," Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.
The speech initially confused, but ultimately pleased, financial markets. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell to nearly flat in the first minutes after the speech was released, but then jumped to about a 100-point gain.
Bernanke's description of the job market, where unemployment is at 8.3 percent and not expected to decline much any time soon, was noticeably bleak:
"The stagnation of the labor market in particular is a grave concern not only because of the enormous suffering and waste of human talent it entails, but also because persistently high levels of unemployment will wreak structural damage on our economy that could last for many years," Bernanke said.
The Fed has a dual mandate, to ensure full employment and stable prices, and it is clearly failing on at least that first half of the mandate. Despite this failure, the Fed has for months refrained from taking any more big steps to help the economy. But hopes for more action started to rise after the release of the minutes of the Fed's latest policy meeting, at which policy makers seemed to be building up to taking action. And Bernanke essentially promised new action with the last paragraph of his speech:
Over the past five years, the Federal Reserve has acted to support economic growth and foster job creation, and it is important to achieve further progress, particularly in the labor market. Taking due account of the uncertainties and limits of its policy tools, the Federal Reserve will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability.
Given how lousy Bernanke thinks the job market is, it's clear that "additional policy accommodation" is indeed "needed." The Fed has already slashed its key interest rate to nearly zero and promised to keep them there until 2014. It has also engaged in two rounds of bond purchases, dubbed "QE1" and "QE2," short for "quantitative easing," meant to pump cash into the economy and encourage more risk-taking. Bernanke said the Fed estimates the first rounds of QE added 2 million jobs to the economy.
The Fed's next chance to do more comes at its policy meeting scheduled for Sept. 12-13. Lots of Fed critics fret that the central bank is nearly out of ammunition to help the economy, and Congress could probably be a lot more effective. But Congress apparently has no interest in helping the economy, so the job is left to Bernanke.
In his speech, Bernanke acknowledges the risks and limitations of another round of Fed stimulus, but said he thinks the risks are manageable and don't outweigh the rewards of doing more:
the hurdle for using nontraditional policies should be higher than for traditional policies. At the same time, the costs of nontraditional policies, when considered carefully, appear manageable, implying that we should not rule out the further use of such policies if economic conditions warrant.
So, to review: The job market is a hellhole that needs fixing. The Fed thinks it has the tools to help the job market. Sure sounds a lot like the Fed is getting ready to act, and maybe soon.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Bernanke delivered his speech on Thursday.
Wealthy Benefit Most From Tax Cuts
Paul Ryan's most recent budget proposal would save those making between $20,000 and $30,000 just $246 in taxes, compared to savings of $265,011 for those who make over $1 million, according to analysis from the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/2012/04/02/gIQAjn0grS_graphic.html" target="_hplink">Center on Budget and Policy Priorities</a>.
Health Care Cuts
The "Path to Prosperity" would cut $2.4 trillion from Medicaid and other health care programs for people with low or moderate incomes, according to analysis from the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/2012/04/02/gIQAjn0grS_graphic.html" target="_hplink">Center on Budget and Policy Priorities</a>.
Fewer People Covered By Medicaid
Under Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" as many as 44 million fewer people would be covered under Medicaid, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7417870n" target="_hplink">according to CBS News</a>.
Reduced Health Care For Retirees
Ryan would raise the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67. If the Affordable Care Act was repealed, something Romney has pledged, that means many 65- and 66-year-olds would be left uninsured, the <a href="http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/08/11/seven-things-the-media-needs-to-know-about-paul/189277" target="_hplink">CBPP reports</a>.
Seniors Would Pay More For Health Coverage
Under Ryan's "Path to Prosperity," senior citizens would have to pay as much as 68 percent of their health care coverage, up from 25 percent today, <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7417870n" target="_hplink">CBS News reports.</a>
Cuts To Food Stamp Programs
Ryan's proposed "Path to Prosperity" includes $134 billion in cuts to SNAP, according to analysis from the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/2012/04/02/gIQAjn0grS_graphic.html" target="_hplink">Center on Budget and Policy Priorities</a>.
Lower Tax Credit For Single Moms
A single mother of two working full time at the minimum wage would have her Child Tax Credit cut by more than $1,500, assuming she made $14,500 a year, according to the <a href="http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/08/11/seven-things-the-media-needs-to-know-about-paul/189277" target="_hplink">Center on Budget and Policy Priorities</a>.
Less Money For Education
Compared to the most recent White House budget proposal, Ryan's budget spends 33 percent less on education, training, employment and social services, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/12/what-paul-ryans-budget-actually-cuts-and-by-how-much/" target="_hplink">the <em>Washington Post</em> reports</a>.
Poor Weather Forecasts
Ryan's proposed cuts to environment and natural resource programs could result in weather forecasts being only half as accurate, according to Third Way's budget expert, David Kendall. "For many people planning a weekend outdoors, they may have to wait until Thursday for a forecast as accurate as one they now get on Monday," <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/12/what-paul-ryans-budget-actually-cuts-and-by-how-much/" target="_hplink">he's quoted as saying in the <em>Washington Post</em></a>.
No Raises For Government Workers
The current government worker pay freeze would be extended under the "Path to Prosperity," meaning public-sector employees wouldn't get a raise until at least 2015, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/post/paul-ryans-budget-plan-hits-federal-workers/2012/08/11/8953b832-e3a3-11e1-98e7-89d659f9c106_blog.html" target="_hplink">the <em>Washington Post</em> reports</a>.