The faster Americans go back to work, the faster an economic safety net will disappear.
This is the push-and-pull consequence of the emergency measures put in place during the first scary weeks of the pandemic.
In investment circles, the issue is referred to as tapering. When will the Federal Reserve start buying fewer bonds? How much less will it be buying? No doubt the answer to those questions lies in the job market data.
One month ago, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard said the timing will depend on ”the accumulation of evidence that substantial further progress on employment has been achieved.” Brainard added, “employment has some distance to go.”
Less than two weeks later, two regional Federal Reserve bank presidents added their voices to the taper talk. Kansas City Fed President Esther George and Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan separately endorsed scaling back on the Fed’s bond buying program. Those two and other central bank leaders have continued their talk of tapering the agency’s bond purchases in recent days, perhaps announcing the tapering timeline as soon as September.
That decision may rest on the results of the August jobs report that will be released Friday.
American companies added more than 900,000 new jobs in each of the two previous months. More than 16.5 million jobs have returned since May 2020. However, that’s only about three-quarters of the jobs lost in March and April 2020 as the pandemic took hold.
The job market has not regained its entire pre-COVID-19 footing, but the Federal Reserve is unlikely to wait for the full recovery before pulling back its emergency support of the economy.
The Fed wants to avoid a repeat of the 2013 taper tantrum. Market interest rates jumped, and stock prices took a hit when investors were surprised the Fed was talking of reeling back the bond buying launched during the Great Recession.
This time, the agency has been speaking about tapering for months and investors know it is inevitable. And employment data are the key.
Financial journalist Tom Hudson hosts “The Sunshine Economy” on WLRN-FM in Miami, where he is the vice president of news. He is the former co-anchor and managing editor of “Nightly Business Report” on public television. Follow him on Twitter @HudsonsView.