Fed Leaves Rates Unchanged and Projects Years of High Unemployment


WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged and near zero at its meeting Wednesday as the central bank projected a gradual economic recovery from the pandemic-induced recession.

In their first economic projections this year, Fed officials indicated that they expect the unemployment rate to end 2020 at 9.3 percent and remain elevated for years, coming in at 5.5 percent in 2022. Output is expected to be 6.5 percent lower at the end of this year than it was in the final quarter of 2019.

The new forecasts predict a much slower path back to economic strength than the Trump administration — and perhaps the stock market — seems to expect as the economy climbs out of a virus-spurred downturn. The Fed skipped its quarterly economic summary in March as the pandemic gripped the United States, sowing uncertainty as business activity came to a near standstill.

“The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term,” the Fed said in the post-meeting statement that accompanied the data outlook.

The Fed said that it will continue buying government-backed debt “at least at the current pace” to sustain smooth market functioning, and that it “will closely monitor developments and is prepared to adjust its plans as appropriate.”

The Fed’s interest rate projections suggested that policy will remain on hold for years, leaving rates near rock-bottom for the foreseeable future.

The Fed Chair, Jerome H. Powell, will hold a web-based news conference at 2:30 p.m. While he has sounded wary about the path ahead, analysts are curious to hear his take on the economy as states gradually open and the job market stages an early rebound. There is no doubt that the economy has experienced a rapid, sharp hit, and the major question facing Mr. Powell and his colleagues is how quickly the country can recover.

The last time the Fed released projections was in December, when officials expected 2020 unemployment to close out at 3.5 percent with 1.9 percent inflation and 2 percent growth.

The coronavirus upended that outlook. Unemployment rocketed to 14.7 percent in April before easing to 13.3 percent in May. Economic activity tanked so sharply as states issued stay-at-home orders in March and April that the National Bureau of Economic Research announced this week that the United States entered a recession after the economy peaked in February.

The central bank’s release came hours after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development put out a report warning that the world economy faces the most severe downturn in a century and could experience a halting rebound.

“Extraordinary policies will be needed to walk the tightrope towards recovery,” said Laurence Boone, the O.E.C.D.’s chief economist.

The Fed’s caution and the O.E.C.D.’s pessimism contrasts with the more optimistic tone Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took while testifying before Senators on Wednesday. He said in prepared remarks that the economy was “well-positioned for a strong, phased reopening of our country,” though he noted during the testimony itself that some sectors had sustained “significant damage.”

And those messages are very different from the one coming from President Trump, who has been celebrating on Twitter as stock indexes rally.

“NASDAQ HITS ALL-TIME HIGH. Tremendous progress being made, way ahead of schedule. USA!” he wrote on Twitter earlier on Wednesday.

  • Updated June 5, 2020

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Mr. Powell has emerged as a voice of economic caution since the pandemic took hold. He has warned that both monetary and fiscal policy must stand ready to do more to make sure the pandemic does not permanently scar the economy, and he has been clear that the Fed does not mistake its early successes in calming markets and reinvigorating lending as giving an all-clear signal.

“While the economic response has been both timely and appropriately large, it may not be the final chapter, given that the path ahead is both highly uncertain and subject to significant downside risk,” Mr. Powell said on May 13.

Since then, some data points have come in above expectations. Unemployment was projected to increase to around 20 percent but it declined instead. Consumer spending is rebounding, though it remains below precrisis levels, based on real-time trackers.

The central bank has taken extraordinary steps already to support the U.S. economy. The Fed cut interest rates to near zero in a series of back-to-back meetings in March. It has been snapping up government-backed bonds to keep markets functioning normally, and has rolled out a series of emergency credit programs aimed at ensuring that businesses and state and local governments can borrow money.

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