By MARTIN CRUTSINGER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday that long-term unemployment is an American "national crisis" and suggested that Congress should take further action to combat it. He also said lawmakers should provide more help to the battered housing industry.
Bernanke noted that about 45 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months.
"This is unheard of," he said in a question-and-answer session after a speech in Cleveland. "This has never happened in the post-war period in the United States. They are losing the skills they had, they are losing their connections, their attachment to the labor force."
He added: "The unemployment situation we have, the job situation, is really a national crisis."
Bernanke said the government needs to provide support to help the long-term unemployed retrain for jobs and find work. And he suggested that Congress should take more responsibility.
Responding to a question, Bernanke said long-term unemployment, budgetary discipline and housing policy were the three most important areas where Congress could contribute to an economic recovery.
"There are certainly some areas where other policymakers could contribute," he said.
Bernanke's comments were his latest in a public effort to get Congress to act further to rejuvenate the economy. He suggested that the Fed can achieve only so much through policies that seek to lower long-term interest rates.
"The Federal Reserve has made enormous efforts to try to help this economy recover and stabilize" though its control of interest rates, or monetary policy, he said. Those policies have driven rates to record lows.
"Monetary policy can do a lot, but monetary policy is not a panacea," Bernanke said.
On the housing crisis, Bernanke said strong government programs to help the industry recover would aid the Fed's own efforts to boost housing by driving mortgage rates to their lowest levels in decades.
In his speech, Bernanke said the United States and other rich nations could re-learn a few lessons from fast-growing developing nations.
He said the successful emerging economies such as China had adopted disciplined budget policies, embraced freed trade, made public investments and supported education.
"Advanced economies like the United States would do well to re-learn some of the lessons from the experiences of the emerging market economies, such as the importance of disciplined fiscal policies," Bernanke said.
But in the question-and-answer period, Bernanke cautioned U.S. lawmakers against cutting deficits too quickly to reduce budget deficits. He has said that could put the fragile economy at risk.
Bernanke noted in his speech that emerging markets such as China account for a large and growing share of the global economy, so they need to act accordingly.
"With increasing size and influence comes greater responsibility," Bernanke said.
Emerging nations will be challenged in the future by their reliance on exports to drive growth, he said..
The Obama administration has been pushing the Group of 20 major economies, which includes traditional powers such as the United States and emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India, to boost domestic demand rather than relying so heavily on exports to rich nations.
Associated Press writer Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland contributed to this report.