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According to fresh Labor Department data, 225,000 people filed for unemployment benefits last week. In context, that number is really not terrible — it’s about where it was in November 2019, before the pandemic.
But you might wonder: Are any of those 225,000 people ticked off at the Federal Reserve? Remember, Fed Chair Jay Powell wants to cool the labor market to bring down inflation. So even if interest rate hikes aren’t the immediate reason someone lost their job, they certainly don’t help.
Plus, inflation is still running near 40-year highs. So, will public anger toward the Fed reach 40-year highs too?
In the early ’80s, Chair Paul Volcker asked some of his staff to go around the country and tell the public why the Fed was raising rates to around 20%.
Donald Kohn, then a Fed economist, met with a consumer advocacy group in Seattle. He doesn’t remember the name of the group, but he does remember how they greeted him.
“We entered into a series of boos. They made sure we understood the pain they were feeling. They actually started getting personal about our own personal finances,” he said.
With both unemployment and inflation around double digits, Kohn’s message that short-term pain was necessary for long-term prosperity did not resonate.
But at least he got an award when he returned to D.C. “These meetings were so unpleasant that Chairman Volcker awarded us purple hearts.”
Fake ones, of course. Kohn said Jay Powell isn’t getting booed everywhere he goes because the labor market is still pretty great.
Plus, the idea that raising interest rates will lower inflation is now pretty well accepted. “I think there was a lot more uncertainty back then,” Kohn added.
The Fed’s approval rating is slipping, though. Only 37% of Americans think it’s doing a good job, according to Gallup — a lower rating than the FBI.
Benjamin Dulchin heads the Fed Up campaign, a progressive group that wants the Fed to slow down rate hikes. More people would be angry with Powell if they could understand him, Dulchin said.
“The Fed’s magic trick is that they can hide in plain sight because they speak in jargon that almost no regular human being speaks,” Dulchin said.
So someone else has to take the blame, per economist Phillip Braun at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. “This time, it seems John Q. Public is really blaming the Biden administration.”
And unlike his predecessor, President Joe Biden has made a point of not blaming Powell, fearing it would undercut the Fed’s independence.
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