Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the relationship between unemployment and inflation has collapsed.
“The relationship between the slack in the economy or unemployment and inflation was a strong one fifty years ago … and has gone away,” Powell said on Thursday during his testimony in front of the Senate Banking Committee. “At least twenty years ago, that period was over and the relationship between unemployment and inflation became weak. And it’s become weaker and weaker and weaker,” he said.
“In additional to that, we are learning that the neutral interest rate is lower than we had thought and … the natural rate of unemployment rate is lower than we thought. So monetary policy hasn’t been as accommondative as we had thought,” Powell said.
Under the Fed’s dual mandate of full employment and price stability, the jobless rate has been historically low, inching up to 3.7% in June from 3.6% in May, which was the lowest since 1969. Inflation, while jumping by the most in nearly one and a half years in June, has been tamed in recent years and consistently below the Fed’s 2% target.
The so-called “Phillips Curve” argues that as unemployment declines, inflation should rise, a phenomenon that has not occurred during this economic expansion.
“At the end of the day, there has to be a connection because low employment will drive wages up and ultimately higher wages will drive inflation, but we haven’t reached that point. In many cases, that connection between the two is quote small these days,” the Fed chief said.
The Fed lowered its inflation target for 2019 at its June policy meeting, seeing the headline inflation growing at a slower pace at 1.5%, versus the 1.8% predicted in March.
Markets are betting the Fed will cut rates later this month in part because inflation has remained so low. Powell’s testimony also fueled the hope for an easier policy.
Powell said on Wednesday the Fed will “act as appropriate” to sustain expansion as “crosscurrents” are weighing on the economic outlook. He noted business investments across the U.S. have slowed “notably” recently.