Extracts from Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to the Congress
The U.S. economy grew at a solid pace over the second half of 2017 and into this year. Monthly job gains averaged 179,000 from July through December, and payrolls rose an additional 200,000 in January. This pace of job growth was sufficient to push the unemployment rate down to 4.1 percent, about 3/4 percentage point lower than a year earlier and the lowest level since December 2000. In addition, the labor force participation rate remained roughly unchanged, on net, as it has for the past several years--that is a sign of job market strength, given that retiring baby boomers are putting downward pressure on the participation rate. Strong job gains in recent years have led to widespread reductions in unemployment across the income spectrum and for all major demographic groups.
Against this backdrop of solid growth and a strong labor market, inflation has been low and stable. In fact, inflation has continued to run below the 2 percent rate that the FOMC judges to be most consistent over the longer run with our congressional mandate.
After easing substantially during 2017, financial conditions in the United States have reversed some of that easing. At this point, we do not see these developments as weighing heavily on the outlook for economic activity, the labor market, and inflation. Indeed, the economic outlook remains strong.
The Congress has assigned us the goals of promoting maximum employment and stable prices. Over the second half of 2017, the FOMC continued to gradually reduce monetary policy accommodation. Specifically, we raised the target range for the federal funds rate by 1/4 percentage point at our December meeting, bringing the target to a range of 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 percent. In addition, in October we initiated a balance sheet normalization program to gradually reduce the Federal Reserve's securities holdings. That program has been proceeding smoothly. These interest rate and balance sheet actions reflect the Committee's view that gradually reducing monetary policy accommodation will sustain a strong labor market while fostering a return of inflation to 2 percent.
In gauging the appropriate path for monetary policy over the next few years, the FOMC will continue to strike a balance between avoiding an overheated economy and bringing PCE price inflation to 2 percent on a sustained basis. While many factors shape the economic outlook, some of the headwinds the U.S. economy faced in previous years have turned into tailwinds: In particular, fiscal policy has become more stimulative and foreign demand for U.S. exports is on a firmer trajectory. Despite the recent volatility, financial conditions remain accommodative. At the same time, inflation remains below our 2 percent longer-run objective. In the FOMC's view, further gradual increases in the federal funds rate will best promote attainment of both of our objectives. As always, the path of monetary policy will depend on the economic outlook as informed by incoming data.
In evaluating the stance of monetary policy, the FOMC routinely consults monetary policy rules that connect prescriptions for the policy rate with variables associated with our mandated objectives. Personally, I find these rule prescriptions helpful. Careful judgments are required about the measurement of the variables used, as well as about the implications of the many issues these rules do not take into account. I would like to note that this Monetary Policy Report provides further discussion of monetary policy rules and their role in the Federal Reserve's policy process, extending the analysis we introduced in July.