More stories

  • in

    Beyond Pandemic’s Upheaval, a Racial Wealth Gap Endures

    Billions in aid has been dispensed, and the social safety net has been reinforced. Will there be more ambitious steps to address longtime inequities?Not since Lyndon Baines Johnson’s momentous civil rights and anti-poverty legislation has an American president so pointedly put racial and economic equity at the center of his agenda.President Biden’s multitrillion-dollar initiatives to rebuild infrastructure in neglected and segregated neighborhoods, increase wages for health care workers, expand the safety net and make pre-K and college more accessible are all shot through with attention to the particular economic disadvantages that face racial minorities. So were his sweeping pandemic relief bill and Inauguration Day executive orders.Yet as ambitious as such efforts are, academic experts and some policymakers say still more will be needed to repair one of the most stubborn and invidious inequalities: the gap in wealth between Black and white Americans.Wealth — one’s total assets — is the most meaningful measure of financial strength. Yet for every dollar a typical white household has, a Black one has 12 cents, a divide that has grown over the last half-century. Latinos have 21 cents for every dollar in white wealth.Such disparities drag down the American economy as a whole. A study by McKinsey & Company found that consumption and investment lost because of that gap cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, or 4 to 6 percent of the projected gross domestic product in 2028.Mr. Biden started talking about the wealth divide on the campaign trail, calling on the Federal Reserve to take on a new role and “aggressively target persistent racial gaps in jobs, wages and wealth.”Vice President Kamala Harris and several Democratic senators have supported proposals targeted specifically at the gap — from increasing Black homeownership to establishing trust accounts for newborns (“baby bonds”). And senior economic advisers who have joined the Biden team, including Cecilia Rouse and Jared Bernstein, have talked about the need for programs that attack structural inequities, noting that disparities in income over time create more entrenched gaps in wealth.Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said the president’s proposals were intended to work together to make sure that unexpected or temporary economic jolts — like the loss of a job — didn’t snowball into a disastrous tumble.“No one thing alone is going to check the box to close the wealth gap, but the combination of all these things together will make real progress,” said Ms. Boushey, who has written frequently about the issue.Government support is crucial, economists say, because there is so little that individuals can do on their own to close the wealth gap. The most surprising finding that researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis established after a decade-long study of inequality and financial vulnerability was that no matter what financial decisions you make or schools you attend, roughly 80 percent of those yawning disparities are determined by your skin color, the year you were born and your gender.Median wealth of Black, Hispanic and white households

    Note: Figures adjusted for inflationSource: Federal Reserve Bank of St. LouisThe New York Times“There’s a lot you don’t control,” said Ray Boshara, who headed the research effort. “These larger forces really have an impact on your ability to accumulate wealth.”Imagine playing a game of Monopoly with a set of rigged rules. Your opponent gets $2,000 in cash, rolls with two dice at every turn, and earns $200 every time he circles the board and passes “Go.” You, by contrast, begin with only $1,000, roll with a single die and earn $100 at “Go.”At the game’s end, you can hand off whatever cash and property you’ve accumulated to a friend or family member, and the next round just continues.The rigged game helps explain the origins of the wealth gap. The heavy hand of a history studded by intimidation and terrifying violence, segregation and unfair housing, zoning and lending policies has prevented generations of Black families from gathering assets.In the 19th century, when the government distributed the country’s most realizable asset — land — during the Homestead Act, African-Americans were left out. In the 20th century, when the focus shifted to building a berth in the middle class through homeownership, African-Americans were again largely excluded from federal mortgage loan support programs and the G.I. Bill of Rights. Tax policies, in turn, favored the wealth-building strategies that were offered to whites.Even New Deal assistance programs like unemployment insurance that were created to help people survive the Depression excluded agricultural and domestic workers, who were overwhelmingly Black.Again and again, African-Americans were shut off from the capital that makes capitalism work.“That’s how we built the racial wealth gap,” said William A. Darity Jr., an economics professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University. “Unless you have a comparable program focused on building Black wealth, you’re not going to do much about it.”Unequal outcomes in one generation turn into unequal opportunities in the next. Without assets, Black parents cannot offer as much financial support to help pay for their children’s education, first home or efforts to start a small business.Black graduates, for example, have to take out bigger loans to cover college costs, compelling them to start out in more debt — on average $25,000 more — than their white counterparts.Recognizing an uneven playing field is not as obvious as it might seem. The lopsided Monopoly rules were developed by social scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, nearly a decade ago as part of an experiment on money’s effect on human behavior.They found that winners consistently credited their hard-earned skills and smarts for their success rather than a skewed playing field.Research shows that outside forces prevent Black workers who are just as talented and hardworking from achieving the same success as their white peers.Harold M. Lambert/Getty ImagesThat all-too-human response clouds thinking about inequality, said Paul Piff, who led the research team and is now a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine.Americans, much more than people from other countries, interpret “their advantages in terms of things they themselves have earned or deserved as opposed to thinking it’s the result of an unfair world,” Professor Piff said. “Then the inequalities you’re seeing aren’t unfair, they’re just necessary outcomes of things that people did or didn’t do,” he said, so you are less willing to do anything about them.Mr. Boshara at the St. Louis Fed said the implications were particularly pertinent in thinking about the racial wealth gap.“People feel they’ve earned everything they have, but the evidence just doesn’t support that,” said Mr. Boshara, who is helping to lead a follow-up research initiative at the bank, the Institute for Economic Equity. “It counters the American narrative that everybody who has something made it on their own.”Challenging shibboleths about hard work and personal responsibility can meet resistance. People often take immediate offense, interpreting the argument as detracting from their own demonstrable hard work, skills and talent. What the research highlights, though, are the outside forces that prevent other individuals who are just as talented and hardworking from achieving the same success.The same house in a Black neighborhood will fetch less money than it would in a white one. A Black worker with the same credentials as a white colleague will earn less. Even among college graduates, the Black jobless rate tends to be twice as high as the rate for whites. Such inequities operate like an invisible tax on African-Americans, a tax on being Black.The pandemic has underscored how crushing unpredictable and uncontrollable twists in circumstances can be. When Congress approved the $1.9 trillion relief plan, Mr. Biden pointed out that millions of Americans were jobless and lining up at food banks “through no fault of their own.”“I want to emphasize that,” he added. “Through no fault of their own.”The pandemic has hit African-Americans and Latinos hardest on all fronts, with higher infection and death rates, more job losses, and more business closures.Proposals that confront the wealth gap head on, though, are both expensive and politically charged.Professor Darity of Duke, a co-author of “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century,” has argued that compensating the descendants of Black slaves — who helped build the nation’s wealth but were barred from sharing it — would be the most direct and effective way to reduce the racial wealth gap.Vice President Harris and Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey have tended to push for asset-building policies that have more popular support. They have offered programs to increase Black homeownership, reduce student debt, supplement retirement accounts and establish “baby bonds” with government contributions tied to family income.With these accounts, recipients could build up money over time that could be used to cover college tuition, start a business or help in retirement.Several states have experimented with small-scale programs meant to encourage children to go to college. Though those programs were not created to close the racial wealth gap, researchers have seen positive side effects. In Oklahoma, child development accounts seeded with $1,000 were created in 2007 for a group of newborns.“We have very clear evidence that if we create an account of birth for everyone and provide a little more resources to people at the bottom, then all these babies accumulate assets,” said Michael Sherraden, founding director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, which is running the Oklahoma experiment. “Kids of color accumulate assets as fast as white kids.”Without dedicated funds — the kind of programs that enabled white families to build assets — it won’t be possible for African-Americans to bridge the wealth gap, said Mehrsa Baradaran, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.”She paraphrased a 1968 presidential campaign slogan of Hubert Humphrey’s: “You can’t have Black capitalism without capital.” More

  • in

    New state unemployment claims rose again last week.

    The job market remains challenging, with the government reporting Thursday that initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose last week.A total of 741,000 workers filed first-time claims for state jobless benefits last week, an increase of 18,000, the Labor Department said. It was the second consecutive weekly increase after new claims hit a pandemic low.At the same time, 152,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 85,000.Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. Claims rose above one million early in the year but have come down since then, helped by the spread of vaccinations, the easing of restrictions on businesses in many states and the arrival of stimulus funds.Most individuals received payments of $1,400 in recent weeks as part of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion relief package, and the funds should bolster consumer spending in the coming months.On Friday, the government reported that employers added 916,000 jobs in March, twice February’s gain and the most since August. The unemployment rate dipped to 6 percent, the lowest since the pandemic began, with nearly 350,000 people rejoining the labor force.Still, there is plenty of ground to make up.Even after March’s job gains, the economy is 8.4 million jobs short of where it was in February 2020. Entire sectors, like travel and leisure, as well as restaurants and bars, are only beginning to recover from the millions of job losses that followed the pandemic’s arrival. More

  • in

    To Build Support for Infrastructure Plan, Biden Offers His Own Take on ‘Bipartisan’

    President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal is a test of his belief that he can generate popular backing across the country as Republicans seek to block him on Capitol Hill.WASHINGTON — President Biden’s attempt to muscle through a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the country’s infrastructure — along with the tax increases to pay for it — will be a defining test of his belief that bipartisan support for his proposals can overwhelm traditional Republican objections in Congress.Instead of paring back his ambitions in an effort to limit opposition from Republicans in the Senate or appease moderate Democrats in the House, Mr. Biden and his allies on Capitol Hill are barreling ahead with unapologetically bold, expensive measures, betting that they can build bipartisanship from voters nationwide rather than from elected officials in Washington.Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and other members of his party are working to brand the bill as a liberal wish list of wasteful spending and a money grab from a Democratic administration that will drag down the economy with tax hikes.But Mr. Biden is predicting that the broad appeal of wider roads, faster internet, high-speed trains, ubiquitous charging stations for electric cars, shiny new airport terminals and upgraded water pipes will undercut the expected barrage of ideological attacks that are already coming from Republican lawmakers, business groups, anti-tax activists and President Donald J. Trump.In his first cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday, Mr. Biden directed several of his top officials to travel the country during the next several weeks to sell the benefits of the infrastructure spending. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, also told reporters that the president would host Democrats and Republicans in the Oval Office to discuss the plan and their ideas.“I hope and believe the American people will join this effort — Democrats, Republicans and independents,” Mr. Biden said in Pittsburgh on Wednesday as he formally announced his plan. He compared it to the popularity of the nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that passed last month, saying, “If you live in a town with a Republican mayor, a Republican county executive or a Republican governor, ask them how many would rather get rid of the plan.”But generating sustained support for the proposal is shaping up to be a major challenge for the White House. The business lobby is preparing to wage a full-scale campaign against the tax increases in the president’s plan, with influential groups like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce warning lawmakers against raising taxes as the United States emerges from a deep economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.But across the country, some local Republican officials are already embracing the prospect of millions of dollars in new infrastructure spending flowing into their communities, even as they are careful to express concern about new taxes.The president is betting that the broad appeal of wider roads, faster internet, high-speed trains, charging stations for electric cars, new airport terminals and upgraded water pipes will undercut the expected ideological attacks from Republicans.Todd Heisler/The New York TimesIn Fresno, Calif., Mayor Jerry Dyer said the president’s proposals, if passed into law, would allow the city to accelerate plans for a high-speed rail station linking it to job centers in the Bay Area. He said the city had struggled to electrify its fleet of buses and provide robust internet, especially to poorer communities.“These dollars are going to be welcomed in terms of repairing a lot of our infrastructure,” said Mr. Dyer, a Republican. He said he was concerned about the effects of higher taxes on businesses but added that he hoped the issue would be worked out in Washington.“There’s no question the need is there,” he said.Mayor John Giles of Mesa, Ariz., called the president’s proposal “a very good thing” for his city. With the money, Mesa could upgrade a 1970s-era airport tower, widen roads, extend broadband and expand a regional light rail network. He said he was disappointed by the Republican opposition in Congress.“It was only a few months ago that we all agreed that infrastructure was a bipartisan issue,” Mr. Giles said. “That attitude shouldn’t shift just because there’s a new administration in the White House.”But Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, another Republican who has called for a vast infusion of spending on infrastructure, accused Mr. Biden of using the legislation to advance $1.4 trillion in liberal programs.“It still has a lot of good things, but it also has a lot of things that have absolutely nothing to do with infrastructure,” Mr. Hogan said. “They’re like, ‘No, we just want to jam through all of our priorities.’”Mr. Biden and those closest to him understand that passage of the legislation will take place in Washington, not in Fresno or Mesa or Maryland. In announcing his plan, the president sought to cast congressional Republicans as longtime champions of infrastructure, both inviting them to negotiate and daring them to oppose his proposal.“We’ll have a good-faith negotiation with any Republican who wants to help get this done,” Mr. Biden said. “But we have to get it done.”That last line was a not-so-subtle hint about his legislative strategy. If the president cannot win backing from Republican lawmakers, Democrats appeared poised to once again use a parliamentary budget tool known as reconciliation to push through the tax and spending plan with a simple majority vote and most likely only Democratic support.At an event in his home state on Thursday, Mr. McConnell called Mr. Biden “a first-rate person” whom he liked personally. But he argued that the president was running a “bold, left-wing administration” and warned “that package that they’re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side.”For Mr. Biden, who spent more than three decades in the Senate, the political calculations are far different than they were 12 years ago, when a similar measure was under consideration.Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, warned that his conference would not support Mr. Biden’s proposal.Anna Moneymaker for The New York TimesPresident Barack Obama took office in 2009, in the middle of an economic crisis with a Senate firmly in Democratic control. Only weeks into his term, he pushed through an $825 billion stimulus bill devised to jump-start the economy — legislation that is now seen by many progressives as far too timid.Mr. Obama and his aides spent weeks feverishly negotiating with conservative Democrats and a handful of Republicans in Congress, who pressed the president to limit the size of the spending plan. Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time, said conservative Democrats like Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska insisted that the president win Republican support.Mr. Biden appears to have taken from that experience the lesson that there are limited benefits from seeking to woo a small number of Republicans — and that the key is to sell the benefits of the plan to Americans and not get hung up on the process to pass it.“The politics was different, the policy was different, the public was different,” Mr. Emanuel said, praising Mr. Biden’s approach. Even before the president unveiled his plan, Republicans argued that Democrats were not genuinely interested in bipartisan negotiations, particularly after they pushed the pandemic relief package into law without any Republican votes.Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has asked the Senate parliamentarian to offer guidance on how many times senators can pursue reconciliation this fiscal year, which several Republicans took as a sign that they were preparing to bypass the 60-vote filibuster threshold.“It is disingenuous for the president to invite Republicans to the White House and the Oval Office to discuss this when he’s made it very clear — and Democrats in Congress have made it very clear — they have no intention of working with Republicans on this package,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.In an interview, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said she appreciated the outreach from the administration leading up to Mr. Biden’s announcement, including multiple bipartisan briefings for lawmakers and individual conversations with cabinet officials.But Ms. Collins, a member of a bipartisan Senate group that is eager to strike compromises on a number of issues, said bipartisan negotiations would most likely falter if the administration refused to budge on the overall price tag or composition of the package.Senator Susan Collins said she appreciated the outreach from the administration leading up to Mr. Biden’s announcement.Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times“Everyone knows what bipartisanship means: It means that you get members of Congress from both parties working on and voting for important legislation,” she said, adding: “It’s not like it’s some relic of ancient times. We acted in a bipartisan manner on the most important issue last year: the pandemic.”If Democrats are already considering using reconciliation, Ms. Collins said, “that raises questions about whether there is a sincere interest in crafting a bipartisan infrastructure package.”Some Democrats have said that the proposal is not enough to address both infrastructure needs and inequities across the country, and they have counseled the White House against winnowing down a legislative package to win a handful of Republican votes.“I’m not particularly hopeful that we’re going to see a giant awakening from Republicans who decide that they want to pass an infrastructure package that actually addresses climate,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told reporters before Mr. Biden’s speech. More

  • in

    Democrats Look to Smooth the Way for Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

    House Democrats face hurdles to pushing through the president’s big spending plans, including Republican opposition and resistance from their own ranks.WASHINGTON — Senior Democrats on Monday proposed a tax increase that could partly finance President Biden’s plans to pour trillions of dollars into infrastructure and other new government programs, as party leaders weighed an aggressive strategy to force his spending proposals through Congress over unified Republican opposition.The moves were the start of a complex effort by Mr. Biden’s allies on Capitol Hill to pave the way for another huge tranche of federal spending after the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that was enacted this month. The president is set to announce this week the details of his budget, including his much-anticipated infrastructure plan.He is scheduled to travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to describe the first half of a “Build Back Better” proposal that aides say will include a total of $3 trillion in new spending and up to an additional $1 trillion in tax credits and other incentives.Yet with Republicans showing early opposition to such a large plan and some Democrats resisting key details, the proposals will be more difficult to enact than the pandemic aid package, which Democrats muscled through the House and Senate on party-line votes.In the House, where Mr. Biden can currently afford to lose only eight votes, Representative Tom Suozzi, Democrat of New York, warned that he would not support the president’s plan unless it eliminated a rule that prevents taxpayers from deducting more than $10,000 in local and state taxes from their federal income taxes. He is one of a handful of House Democrats who are calling on the president to repeal the provision.And in the Senate, where most major legislation requires 60 votes to advance, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, was exploring an unusual maneuver that could allow Democrats to once again use reconciliation — the fast-track budget process they used for the stimulus plan — to steer his spending plans through Congress in the next few months even if Republicans are unanimously opposed.While an aide to Mr. Schumer said a final decision had not been made to pursue such a strategy, the prospect, discussed on the condition of anonymity, underscored the lengths to which Democrats were willing to go to push through Mr. Biden’s agenda.The president’s initiatives will feature money for traditional infrastructure projects like rebuilding roads, bridges and water systems; spending to advance a transition to a lower-carbon energy system, like electric vehicle charging stations and the construction of energy-efficient buildings; investments in emerging industries like advanced batteries; education efforts like free community college and universal prekindergarten; and measures to help women work and earn more, like increased support for child care.The proposals are expected to be partly offset by a wide range of tax increases on corporations and high earners.In Pittsburgh, Mr. Biden will lay out “the first of two equally critical packages to rebuild our economy and create better-paying jobs for American workers,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Monday.“He’ll talk this week about investments we need to make in domestic manufacturing, R & D, the caregiving economy and infrastructure,” she added. “In the coming weeks, the president will lay out his vision for a second package that focuses squarely on creating economic security for the middle class through investments in child care, health care, education and other areas.”Mr. Biden’s budget office is also expected this week to release his spending request for the next fiscal year, which is separate from the infrastructure plan. White House officials said it would lay out funding levels agency by agency, so that congressional committees could begin to write appropriations bills for next year. For the first time in a decade, they will not be limited by spending caps imposed by Congress. (Lawmakers have agreed to break those caps in recent years.)That request will not include Mr. Biden’s tax plans, the officials said. The administration’s full budget will be presented to Congress this spring.For now, some Democrats are already jockeying to make sure that their proposals are part of the plan.Construction in Miami this month. Mr. Biden’s plan will include investments in traditional infrastructure projects, as well as climate change initiatives and social programs.Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesSenator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, and a group of liberal Democrats on Monday proposed scaling back a provision in the tax code that allows wealthy heirs to reduce what they pay on assets they inherit, known as stepped-up basis. The proposal reflects one of Mr. Biden’s campaign promises, and officials have suggested that it could be used to fund his infrastructure plans.Current law reduces the taxes that heirs owe on assets that appreciate over time. Say a person buys $1 million worth of stock, and the value of that stock rises to $10 million before the person dies. If the person sold the stock before death, she would owe taxes on a $9 million gain. But if she died first, and her heirs immediately sold the stocks she gave them, they would not owe any capital gains taxes. Under the new proposal, which exempts $1 million in gains, the heirs would owe taxes on the remaining $8 million gain.The full exemption reduces federal tax revenues by more than $40 billion a year. It was unclear on Monday how much the Democratic plan would raise in revenues to help Mr. Biden’s spending efforts.Other Democrats pushed the president to include further tax cuts in his plan.Mr. Suozzi of New York said in an interview on Monday that he would not support changes to the tax code without a full repeal of the so-called SALT cap, which limits the amount of local and state taxes that can be deducted from federal income taxes. That change largely hurt higher-income households in high-tax states like California, Maryland and New York.House Democrats passed legislation in 2019 that would have temporarily removed the cap, but it stalled in the Senate and attempts to include it in pandemic relief legislation were unsuccessful.“It has to be elevated as part of the conversation,” Mr. Suozzi said. “There’s a lot of different talk about going big and going bold and making significant changes to the tax code. I want to make SALT part of the conversation.”.css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.He is among the Democrats who have requested a meeting with Mr. Biden to discuss repealing the cap, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.“No SALT, no dice,” declared another Democrat, Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.“There’s plenty of ways, in my opinion, to raise revenue and reinstate SALT,” he said in an interview, adding that he wanted to see the full details of the proposal.Ms. Psaki said on Monday that administration officials “look forward to working with a broad coalition of members of Congress to gather their input and ideas, and determine the path forward, create good jobs and make America more competitive.”While members of both parties have said they support a major infrastructure initiative, Republicans have balked at the details of Mr. Biden’s opening bid, which includes not only sweeping investments in traditional public works but also more ambitious proposals to tackle climate change and education, and tax increases to help offset the considerable costs.“Unfortunately, it looks like this is not going to head in the direction I had hoped,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said at an event in his state. “My advice to the administration is: If you want to do an infrastructure bill, let’s do an infrastructure bill. Let’s don’t turn it into a massive effort to raise taxes on businesses and individuals.”“I’d love to do an infrastructure bill,” he added. “I’m not interested in raising taxes across the board on America. I think it will send our economy in the wrong direction.”Should Democratic lawmakers try to move Mr. Biden’s plan through the regular legislative process and overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold, at least 10 Republicans would need to join them.But the reconciliation process allows a fiscal package included in the budget resolution to be shielded from a filibuster. Mr. Schumer has asked the Senate’s top rule-enforcer whether Democrats can revisit the budget blueprint that was approved last month to include the infrastructure plan, which would enable them to undertake a second reconciliation process before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and pass it with a simple majority.Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and other top Democrats are arguing that a key congressional law allows them to essentially redo the budget blueprint for the current fiscal year.Anna Moneymaker for The New York TimesBecause there is no precedent for passing two reconciliation packages in the same budget year with the same blueprint, Elizabeth MacDonough, the parliamentarian, will have to issue guidance on whether doing so is permissible under Senate rules.If Democrats succeed, they could potentially use the reconciliation maneuver at least two more times this calendar year to push through more of Mr. Biden’s agenda. More

  • in

    Fear of Inflation Finds a Foothold in the Bond Market

    There is little evidence for a big jump in prices, but some economists and bond investors fear President Biden’s policies could lead to inflation.The so-called bond vigilantes may be back, 30 years after they led a sell-off in Treasury securities over the prospect of higher government spending by a new Democratic administration.The Federal Reserve has downplayed the risk of inflation, and many experts discount the danger of a sustained rise in prices. But there is an intense debate underway on Wall Street about the prospects for higher inflation and rising interest rates.Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have risen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that traders are taking the inflation threat more seriously. If the trend continues, it will put bond investors on a collision course with the Biden administration, which recently won passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and wants to spend trillions more on infrastructure, education and other programs.The potential confrontation made some market veterans recall the 1990s, when yields on Treasury securities lurched higher as the Clinton administration considered plans to increase spending. As a result, officials soon turned to deficit reduction as a priority.Ed Yardeni, an independent economist, coined the term bond vigilante in the 1980s to describe investors who sell bonds amid signs that fiscal deficits are getting out of hand, especially if central bankers and others don’t act as a counterweight.As bond prices fall and yields rise, borrowing becomes more expensive, which can force lawmakers to spend less.“They seem to mount up and form a posse every time inflation is making a comeback,” Mr. Yardeni said. “Clearly, they’re back in the U.S. So while it’s fine for the Fed to argue inflation will be transitory, the bond vigilantes won’t believe it till they see it.”Yields on the 10-year Treasury note hit 1.75 percent last week before falling back this week, a sharp rise from less than 1 percent at the start of the year.Not all the sellers necessarily oppose more government spending — some are simply acting on a belief that yields will move higher as economic activity picks up, or jumping on a popular trade. But the effect is the same, pushing yields higher as prices for bonds fall.Yields remain incredibly low by historical standards and even recent trading. Two years ago, the 10-year Treasury paid 2.5 percent — many bond investors would happily welcome a return to those yields given that a government note bought today pays a relative pittance in interest. And during the Clinton administration, yields on 10-year Treasurys rose to 8 percent, from 5.2 percent between October 1993 and November 1994.Still, Mr. Yardeni believes the bond market is saying something policymakers today ought to pay attention to.“The ultimate goal of the bond vigilante is to be heard, and they are blowing the whistle,” he said. “It could come back to bite Biden’s plans.”Yet evidence of inflation remains elusive. Consumer prices, excluding the volatile food and energy sectors, have been tame, as have wages. And even before the pandemic, unemployment plumbed lows not seen in decades without stoking inflation.Indeed, the bond vigilantes remain outliers. Even many economists at financial firms who expect faster growth as a result of the stimulus package are not ready to predict inflation’s return.“The inflation dynamic is not the same as it was in the past,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago. “Globalization, technology and e-commerce all make it harder for firms to increase prices.”What’s more, with more than nine million jobs lost in the past year and an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent, it would seem there is plenty of slack in the economy.That’s how Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist who was an economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and is a former top Fed official, sees it. Even if inflation goes up slightly, Mr. Blinder believes the Fed’s target for inflation, set at 2 percent, is appropriate.“Bond traders are an excitable lot, and they go to extremes,” he said. “If they are true to form, they will overreact.”Indeed, there have been rumors of the bond vigilantes’ return before, like in 2009 as the economy began to creep out of the deep hole of the last recession and rates inched higher. But in the ensuing decade, both yields and inflation remained muted. If anything, deflation was a greater concern than rising prices.It is not just bond traders who are concerned. Some of Mr. Blinder’s colleagues from the Clinton administration are warning that the conventional economic wisdom hasn’t fully accepted the possibility of higher rates or an uptick in prices..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.Robert E. Rubin, Mr. Clinton’s second Treasury secretary, echoed that concern but took pains to support the stimulus package.“There is a deep uncertainty,” Mr. Rubin said in an interview. “We needed this relief bill, and it served a lot of useful purposes. But we now have an enormous amount of stimulus, and the risks of inflation have increased materially.”Mr. Rubin acknowledged that predicting inflation was very difficult, but he said policymakers ought to be ready to fight it. “If inflationary pressures do take off, it’s important to get ahead of them quickly before they take on a life of their own.”The Federal Reserve has plenty of options. Not only is it buying up debt, which keeps yields down, but the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, has called for keeping monetary policy relatively loose for the foreseeable future. If higher prices do materialize, the Fed could halt asset purchases and raise rates sooner.“We’re committed to giving the economy the support that it needs to return as quickly as possible to a state of maximum employment and price stability,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. That help will continue “for as long as it takes.”While most policymakers expect faster growth, falling unemployment and a rise in inflation to above 2 percent, they nonetheless expect short-term rates to stay near zero through 2023.But the Fed’s ability to control longer-term rates is more limited, said Steven Rattner, a veteran Wall Street banker and former New York Times reporter who served in the Obama administration.“At some point, if this economy takes off bigger than any one of us expect, the Fed will have to raise rates, but it’s not this year’s issue and probably not next year’s issue,” he said. “But we are in uncharted waters, and we are to some extent playing with fire.”The concerns about inflation expressed by Mr. Rattner, Mr. Rubin and others has at least a little to do with a generational angst, Mr. Rattner, 68, points out. They all vividly remember the soaring inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s that prompted the Fed to raise rates into the double digits under the leadership of Paul Volcker.The tightening brought inflation under control but caused a deep economic downturn.“People my age remember well the late 1970s and 1980s,” Mr. Rattner said. “I was there, I covered it for The Times, and lived through it. Younger people treat it like it was the Civil War.”Some younger economists, like Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics, who is 36, think these veterans of past inflation scares are indeed fighting old wars. Any rise in inflation above 2 percent is likely to be transitory, Mr. Daco said. Bond yields are up, but they are only returning to normal after the distortions caused by the pandemic.“If you have memories of high inflation and low growth in the 1970s, you may be more concerned with it popping up now,” he said. “But these are very different circumstances today.” More

  • in

    Larry Summers Warned About Inflation. Fed Officials Push Back.

    Mr. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, and other economists say $1.9 trillion more in pandemic relief might overdo it. The Federal Reserve’s vice chair and a regional president disagreed.Federal Reserve officials pushed back on Thursday against concerns raised by two prominent economists — Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, and Olivier J. Blanchard, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund — that big government spending could overheat the economy and send inflation rocketing higher.Those warnings have grabbed headlines and spurred debate over the past two months as details of the federal government’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill came together. Mr. Summers in particular has kept them up since the legislation passed, saying it was too much on the heels of large spending packages last year. He recently called the approach the “least responsible” fiscal policy in 40 years while predicting that it had a one-in-three chance of precipitating higher inflation and maybe stagflation, or a one-in-three chance of causing the Fed to raise rates and pushing the economy toward recession.But two leaders at the Fed, which is tasked with using monetary policies to keep inflation steady and contained, gave little credence to those fears on Thursday. Richard H. Clarida, the central bank’s vice chairman, and Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, both responded to questions specifically about Mr. Summers’s and Mr. Blanchard’s warnings.“They have both correctly pointed out that the U.S. has a lot of fiscal support this year,” Mr. Clarida said on an Institute of International Finance webcast. “Where I would disagree is whether or not that is primarily going to represent a long-term, persistent upward risk to inflation, and I don’t think so.”Mr. Clarida said that there was a lot of room for the economy to recover — some 9.5 million jobs that were lost during the pandemic are still gone — and that the effect of the government’s relief spending would diminish over time. He also said that while spenders had pent-up demand, there was also pent-up supply because the service sector had been shut for a year.“At the Fed, we get paid to be attentive and attuned to inflation risks, and we will be,” Mr. Clarida said. But he noted that forecasters didn’t see “undesirable upward pressure” on inflation over time.Mr. Evans told reporters on a call that he wasn’t sure what “overheating” — the danger that top economists have warned about — actually meant.“First off, there’s a conversation of is this the best way to spend money,” he summarized, adding that he didn’t have anything to say about that. “But then there’s sort of like, ‘Oh, this is so much that it is going to overshoot potential output, and there’s a risk that we’re going to get overheating, and then inflation.’”He continued: “What is the definition of overheating? It’s a great word, it evokes all kinds of images, but it’s kind of like potential output is always a strange concept anyway. Can output be too high?”Mr. Evans has been concerned for years that inflation is too tepid, rather than that it might pick up too much. Superweak price pressures can cause problems by risking price declines — which encourage saving and harm debtors — and by robbing the Fed of room to cut interest rates during times of trouble.“I kind of remember the ’70s, too,” a decade when inflation spiraled up and out of control in America, Mr. Evans said. “This isn’t the ’70s. We’ve had trouble getting inflation up.”Inflation has been weak in the United States, and in advanced economies broadly, the past two decades. To try to keep that from turning into a bigger problem, the Fed has been working to “re-anchor” consumer and market expectations to prevent inflation slipping lower. The central bank announced last year that it would begin to aim for 2 percent annual price gains on average over time, allowing for periods of greater increases.Still, no Fed policymaker wants inflation to suddenly spike, eroding consumer purchasing power. If that happened, the Fed might have to lift interest rates rapidly to slow down the economy, throwing people out of work and possibly causing a recession. That’s what Mr. Summers and Mr. Blanchard are warning about..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.The $1.9 trillion measure that the Biden administration ushered through Congress added to a $900 billion relief package enacted in December and a $2 trillion package last March.Mr. Blanchard, in a March 5 post on Twitter, compared the fresh government spending to a snake swallowing an elephant: “The snake was too ambitious. The elephant will pass, but maybe with some damage.”He more recently said that he had “no clue as to what happens to inflation and rates” but that there is a lot of uncertainty and that things “could go wrong.”Mr. Summers, who led the Treasury Department from 1999 to 2001, wrote in a Feb. 4 Washington Post column that, while it was hugely uncertain, “there is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation.”He said in a Bloomberg Television interview last week that “we are running enormous risks.”But Fed officials don’t think big government outlays will be enough to rewrite the world’s low-inflation story. And if it does stoke a slightly faster pickup, that might be a welcome development.Mr. Clarida acknowledged that price gains were likely to speed up over the next few months, but said he expected most of that “to be transitory” and for inflation to return to “or perhaps run somewhat above” 2 percent in 2022 and 2023.“This outcome would be entirely consistent with the new framework we adopted in August 2020,” he said. More

  • in

    If the Economy Overheats, How Will We Know?

    We asked some prominent participants in the Great Overheating Debate of 2021 to explain what inflationary trends they’re afraid of (or not, as the case may be).“It is strange to me that for years economists pined for a better mix of monetary and fiscal policy, and now we have it and there is a narrative among some that it has to end in disaster,” one economist said.Olivier Douliery/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSome big-name economists argue that the economy will soon overheat because of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief and other spending measures.They worry that the economy is being flooded with too much money, a fear only heightened by news that the administration will seek $3 trillion more to build infrastructure, cut carbon emissions and reduce inequality.But in this debate, what overheating would mean — exactly how much inflation, with what kinds of side effects for the economy — has often been vague. So The New York Times asked some prominent participants in the Great Overheating Debate of 2021 to lay out in more detail what they are afraid of, and how we will know if their fears have been realized. See their full answers here.It turns out that the two sides — the overheating worriers and those who think those concerns are misplaced — agree on many points. They have common ground on what a bad outcome might look like, and agree that it will take some time to know whether a problematic form of inflation is really taking root. The differences are in how likely they consider it to happen.The core dispute, one with big consequences for the future of the economy and for the Biden administration, is over the nature of the inflation that is to come.As the economy reopens and Americans spend their stimulus checks and the money they saved during the pandemic, demand for certain goods and services will outstrip supply, driving up prices. That is now pretty much an inevitability.The Biden administration and its allies are betting this will be a one-time event: that prices will recalibrate, industries will adjust and unemployment will fall. By next year they expect a booming economy with inflation back at low, stable levels.The overheating worriers, who include prominent Clinton-era policymakers and many conservatives, believe there is a more substantial chance that one of two more pessimistic scenarios will come true. As vast federal spending keeps coursing through the economy, they fear that high inflation will come to be seen as the new normal and that behavior will adjust accordingly.If people believe we are entering a more inflationary era — after more than a decade when inflation has been persistently low — they could alter their behavior in self-fulfilling ways. Businesses would be quicker to raise prices and workers to demand raises. The purchasing power of a dollar would fall, and the bond investors who lend to the government would demand higher interest rates, making financing the budget deficit trickier.“I don’t think anyone will be too surprised to see massive airfare inflation” in the short term, for example, as the economy reopens, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. “Instead, I worry if we start to see signs that people, businesses and financial markets are responding to the level of overheating as if it were permanent.”That situation would leave policymakers, especially at the Federal Reserve, faced with two bad choices: Allow inflation to take off in an upward spiral, or stop it by raising interest rates and quite possibly causing a recession.“Ultimately we’re worried about an outcome in the real economy, which is rapid growth in 2021 followed by a significant reversal in 2022 or 2023 with anything like a recession, negative growth or a sizable increase in the unemployment rate,” said Jason Furman, a former Obama administration economic adviser. “Much of what we call ‘overheating’ is mostly a concern insofar as it triggers that outcome.”Mr. Furman says annual inflation rates of 3.5 percent or higher in late 2021 or 2022 would “create a substantial risk of macroeconomic reactions that create genuine instability and problems in the economy,” and that even a notch lower than that, 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent, could create some problems.Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives, by contrast, argues that it would take several years of inflation at 3 percent or higher — not just a bump in 2021 or 2022 — before she would worry that inflation expectations could become unmoored, leading to either an inflation-tamping recession or a 1970s-style vicious cycle of ever-higher prices.“It is strange to me that for years economists pined for a better mix of monetary and fiscal policy, and now we have it and there is a narrative among some that it has to end in disaster,” Ms. Coronado said. “I am more optimistic about the macro outlook than I have been in a long time and am far more focused on how quickly the labor market returns to health than any threat from inflation.”As economists view it, inflation — at least the kind worth worrying about — isn’t a one-time event so much as a process.When demand for goods and services expands faster than the supply of them, consumers simply bid up the price of finite goods, and businesses bid up wages to try to keep up. This begins a cycle of higher wages fueling higher prices, which in turn fuels higher wages.Such a process began in the mid-1960s and culminated in double-digit inflation in the 1970s. But there are important differences between then and now. For one thing, unions then were more powerful and demanded steep wage increases. For another, a series of one-off events made inflation worse, including the breakdown of the Bretton Woods international currency arrangements and oil embargoes that sent fuel prices soaring.Those were also years when the Fed responded inadequately to rising inflation pressures — it was a series of errors the central bank made, not just one. That experience would suggest that the Fed, having learned the lessons of that era, could nip any new inflationary outburst in the bud..css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}.css-k59gj9{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;width:100%;}.css-1e2usoh{font-family:inherit;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;border-top:1px solid #ccc;padding:10px 0px 10px 0px;background-color:#fff;}.css-1jz6h6z{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;text-align:left;}.css-1t412wb{box-sizing:border-box;margin:8px 15px 0px 15px;cursor:pointer;}.css-hhzar2{-webkit-transition:-webkit-transform ease 0.5s;-webkit-transition:transform ease 0.5s;transition:transform ease 0.5s;}.css-t54hv4{-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-1r2j9qz{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-e1ipqs{font-size:1rem;line-height:1.5rem;padding:0px 30px 0px 0px;}.css-e1ipqs a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.css-e1ipqs a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-1o76pdf{visibility:show;height:100%;padding-bottom:20px;}.css-1sw9s96{visibility:hidden;height:0px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1cz6wm{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;font-family:’nyt-franklin’,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;text-align:left;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1cz6wm{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1cz6wm:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1cz6wm{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus PackageThe stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more. Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read moreThis credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.Larry Summers, Treasury secretary to President Clinton and a top adviser to President Obama, kicked off the overheating debate with an op-ed in The Washington Post. He says an effort by the Fed to rein in overheating would be unlikely to be painless.“We have an experience like most of the recessions prior to 1990, when expansions were murdered by the Fed with inflation control as the motive,” he said, adding: “In the past it has proven impossible to generate a soft landing. I can’t think of a time when we have experienced a big downshift without having a recession.”He now assigns roughly equal odds to three possibilities: that everything goes according to plan, with inflation returning to normal after a one-time surge; that a cycle of ever-rising inflation develops; or that the Fed ultimately causes a steep downturn to prevent that inflationary cycle.So given that the real risk is not so much inflation in 2021, but what happens beyond the immediate future, how would we know it?Greg Mankiw, a Harvard economist who has warned of overheating, said there would be an “ongoing overheating problem” only if consumer prices were rising by more than 3 percent a year and bond prices were to shift in ways that suggested investors expected 3 percent or higher annual inflation for the next five years.Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute also emphasized these inflation “break-evens,” which capture bond investors’ views of future inflation based on the gap between inflation-protected and regular securities. Like Mr. Mankiw, he said that break-evens suggesting 3 percent or higher annual inflation over the next five years would be worrying, as would 2.5 percent or higher inflation expected for the period five to 10 years from now.Another place to look for evidence of overheating will be whether inflation merely rises or keeps accelerating.If the overheating warnings are correct, “it should start accelerating,” said Austan Goolsbee, an economist at the University of Chicago who has been sharply critical of the overheating thesis. “It should be 3, then 4, then 5 percent and so on. Basically they are predicting a 1970s repeat, so just go look at how inflation accelerated in the 1970s.”How will Americans interpret price rises during the post-pandemic boom? Might it jolt them out of the low-inflation psychology that has prevailed for nearly four decades, making businesses more confident about raising prices and workers faster to demand raises?The answer will determine whether the years ahead represent a pleasant warming trend or a red-hot caldron that leaves everybody burned. More