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    Fed Considers Tapering Bond Purchases as Economy Grows

    Federal Reserve officials are gathering in Washington this week with monetary policy still set to emergency mode, even as the economy rebounds and inflation accelerates.Economists expect the central bank’s postmeeting statement at 2 p.m. Wednesday to leave policy unchanged, but investors will keenly watch a subsequent news conference with the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, for any hints at when — and how — officials might begin to pull back their economic support.That’s because Fed policymakers are debating their plans for future “tapering,” the widely used term for slowing down monthly purchases of government-backed debt. The bond purchases are meant to keep money chugging through the economy by encouraging lending and spending, and slowing them would be the first step in moving policy toward a more normal setting.Big and often conflicting considerations loom over the taper debate. Inflation has picked up more sharply than many Fed officials expected. Those price pressures are expected to fade, but the risk that they will linger is a source of discomfort, ramping up the urgency to create some sort of exit plan. At the same time, the job market is far from healed, and the surging Delta coronavirus variant means that the pandemic remains a real risk. Policy missteps could prove costly.The Fed’s balance sheet has grown, thanks to bond-buying.The Federal Reserve has swollen its balance sheet by buying bonds to bolster the economy during the pandemic, making it a bigger player in markets.

    Source: Federal ReserveBy The New York TimesHere are a few key things to know about the bond-buying, and key details that Wall Street will be watching:The Fed is buying $120 billion in government backed bonds each month — $80 billion in Treasury debt and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities.Economists mostly expect the central bank to announce plans to slow those purchases this year, perhaps as soon as August, before actually dialing them back late this year or early next. That slowdown is what Wall Street refers to as a “taper.”There’s a hot debate among policymakers about how that taper should play out. Some officials think the Fed should slow mortgage debt buying first because the housing market is booming. Others have said mortgage security buying has little special effect on the housing market. They have hinted or said they would favor tapering both types of purchases at the same speed.The Fed is moving cautiously, and for a reason: Back in 2013, markets convulsed when investors realized that a similar bond-buying program after the financial crisis would slow soon. Mr. Powell and crew do not want to stage a rerun.Bond-buying is just one of the Fed’s policy tools, and is used to lower longer-term interest rates and to get money chugging around the economy. The Fed also sets a policy interest rate, the federal funds rate, to keep borrowing costs low. It has been near zero since March 2020.Central bankers have been clear that tapering off bond purchases is the first step toward moving policy away from an emergency setting. Increases in the funds rate remain off in the distant future. More

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    Inflation Has Arrived, but Washington Isn’t Racing to Limit Price Pops

    Policymakers, now more attuned to the costs of choking off growth early, are sticking by a patient approach as prices rise.Inflation has long been the boogeyman haunting the nightmares of economic policymakers from both parties — and controlling it has been a top economic priority. But as the economy reopens from pandemic shutdowns and prices spike, it is becoming clear just how much that conventional wisdom has shifted in recent years.After three decades of relative price stability and a long stretch of weak price gains, many economists and lawmakers had in recent years come to believe that trying too hard to avoid overheating the economy created its own risk by prematurely cooling growth and leaving workers on the sidelines.The tools that policymakers used to prevent overheating — raising interest rates and reining in government spending — also contributed to less hiring and slower wage growth. Policymakers have paid increasing attention to those trade-offs, especially as chronically slow price gains across the globe made government efforts to control inflation seem somewhere between futile and self-defeating.That view has remained mostly intact at the Federal Reserve and the White House even as prices pop, virus variants threaten to perpetuate supply-chain bottlenecks and some price increases, like rising rents, create the risk that high inflation might last for a while.The Biden administration is emphasizing the benefits of the current moment, which include higher wages and more bargaining power for workers, as it insists that inflation will fade over time. The Fed, which meets this week, is openly nervous about rising prices, but it isn’t doing anything abrupt to counteract them. It says it needs to weigh the risk of inflation against the threat of slowing a labor market that is still missing nearly seven million jobs compared with prepandemic levels.Republicans are condemning rising prices, warning that the administration needs to rein in its spending plans and that the Fed should withdraw support. Even some left-leaning economists have warned that things could get out of control and that central bank officials need to be on watch.Here is a snapshot of what is happening with inflation, including the risks, the rewards and how policymakers are thinking through a strange economic moment.Prices are up this year, and pretty markedly.Inflation is up across a variety of measures, and by significantly more than economists predicted earlier this year.The Consumer Price Index, a Labor Department gauge of how much a basket of goods and services costs to buy, rose 5.4 percent in the year through June. The Fed prefers a separate measure, the Personal Consumption Expenditures index. That gauge tracks both out-of-pocket expenses and the cost of things people consume but don’t directly pay for, like medical care. It climbed 3.9 percent through May.Prices have risen by more than Fed officials expected, based on both their public statements and their economic projections this year.Why the big jump? Some of it owes to temporary data quirks, which were expected to push inflation higher this year. Part of it has come as prices for airline tickets, hotel rooms and other pandemic-affected purchases rebound from last year, also as anticipated. But the surprisingly large part of the increase has come from a surge in consumer demand that is straining delivery routes and outstripping available supply for electronics, housing and laundry machines.That portion of the inflation is more tied to government policies, which put money into consumers’ pockets — and its future trajectory is a lot less predictable. Economists think the bottlenecks will fade, but by how much and how long it will take is uncertain.Those price increases could have a downside.Whether today’s inflation matters and warrants a response will depend on several factors.If, as the White House predicts, quick price gains fade as the economy returns to normal, they shouldn’t be terribly problematic. Households are likely to have to spend a little bit more on some goods and services but may also find that they are earning more. Workers are now seeing decent wage gains, though not quite enough to outpace price gains, and the labor market is expected to continue strengthening as inflation fades.The biggest price gains have also been concentrated in just a few categories, like used cars. Most families do not buy automobiles that often, so the hit from higher costs will not be as salient for consumers as an across-the-board rapid rise in prices for everything consumers buy, like clothing and milk.But if consumers and businesses come to expect higher prices and start accepting bigger price tags and demanding higher wages, that could broaden inflation and keep it elevated. That would be a problem. Rapid inflation makes life hard for people who live on savings, like retirees. If it outstrips pay gains, it can erode a consumer’s ability to buy goods and services. And if inflation becomes hard to predict, as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, it makes planning for the future hard for businesses and households.There are risks that inflation could take time to get back to normal.There are real reasons to worry that inflation could stick around. Supply-chain snarls are expected to fade with time, but new Covid-19 variants and renewed lockdowns in some countries could keep global trade chains from getting back to normal. That could keep prices for goods elevated. (On the flip side, Jason Furman at Harvard points out that renewed lockdowns would also probably drag down consumer demand, which could lead to softer price pressures.)There are other hot inflation risks. Wages are rising, which might feed into faster prices as employers try to cover costs. Rents — which were depressed — are accelerating, potentially a stickier source of inflationary pressure.If inflation becomes pernicious, the Fed has tools to contain it. The central bank is already coming up with a plan to slow its big bond purchases, which keep longer-term borrowing cheap and lift markets. It could also raise its main interest rate, which would trickle through the economy to slow lending and spending.“One way or another, we’re not going to be going into a period of high inflation for a long period of time, because, of course, we have tools to address that,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, testified this month. “But we don’t want to use them in a way that is unnecessary, or that interrupts the rebound of the economy.”A job fair in St. Louis last month. The Fed is nervous about rising prices, but it says it also needs to weigh the risk of slowing a labor market still missing seven million workers.Whitney Curtis for The New York TimesBut there are also real risks to premature action.As Mr. Powell alluded to, policymakers do not want to move too hastily in response to the recent data. Many officials argue that it does not make sense to react to what is expected to be a short-lived price pickup by dialing back fiscal ambitions or weakening monetary support — policy changes that would reduce demand and lead to slower hiring down the road.Should the Fed pull back support for the economy before many of the 6.8 million jobs that have gone missing since the start of the pandemic return, it could lead to a painful situation in which workers end up stuck out of work.That would cost families paychecks, hurt the country’s potential for growth and tip the economic scales toward employers, who benefit when many available workers are competing for jobs.For decades, “the sensible adult consensus — that the most important thing was to protect against inflation — had a huge cost, and that cost was wages stagnating,” said Benjamin Dulchin, director of the organizing group Fed Up. “The Fed can err on the side of corporate interests and keeping wages lower, or it can err on the side of workers’ interests.”Today’s inflation could offer benefits.Inflation does have some winners. People who owe debts find that they are easier to pay off, and middle-class households who own houses may find that their values appreciate. Research has suggested that inflation in advanced economies can shrink inequality, for instance.But that isn’t even the argument the Fed and the White House are making: They simply do not expect the higher prices to last forever, and they think the short-term costs are worth the long-term benefits of helping the economy through a tough period.Some Democrats think that voracious hiring bolstered by government spending and central bank support will give workers the power to bargain for higher wages — an ability that might last beyond the inflationary phase. And they have been trying to foster a swift recovery from the pandemic downturn, getting people back into jobs and businesses back into full swing quickly.Officials are being patient, even as inflation surprises them.Government officials are setting economic policy today with an eye on the last battle. After the deep 2007-9 recession, the government cut back on spending early and monetary policymakers lifted interest rates before price gains had returned to their 2 percent annual inflation goal. Price gains proceeded to get stuck below that target, and the labor market recovery may have taken longer than it needed to, since the economy had less support.As that episode underlined, slow-moving global trends — including aging demographics and free trade — seem to keep a lid on price gains these days. In Japan and in Europe, policymakers have spent years battling to coax inflation higher. They are worried in part by the looming threat of deflation, which discourages consumption and crushes debtors, who find their pay stagnating or declining as their debt loads remain unchanged.America’s current bout of price pressures actually seems to be helping to guide consumer expectations, which had been slipping lower, back into the comfort zone.And a few heady inflation numbers are a good problem to have, if you ask Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist. The globe just experienced a devastating pandemic that was expected to wreck the economy.“In the current situation, the fact that the economy is booming and they didn’t quite plan for it is still a blessing,” he said. “It’s a rich man’s problem that we’re getting inflation.” More

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    Federal Reserve Chair to Testify Before Congress

    When Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, appears before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, he will be testifying at a fraught moment both politically and economically, given the recent rise in inflation.The Consumer Price Index jumped 5.4 percent in June from a year earlier, the biggest increase since 2008 and a larger move than economists had expected. Price pressures appear poised to last longer than policymakers at the White House or Fed anticipated.In testimony on Wednesday before the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Powell attributed rapid price gains to factors tied to the economy’s reopening from the pandemic, and indicated in response to questioning that Fed officials expected inflation to begin calming in six months or so.He acknowledged that “the incoming inflation data have been higher than expected and hoped for,” but he said the gains were coming from a “small group” of goods and services directly tied to reopening.For now, he voiced comfort with the central bank’s relatively patient policy path even in light of the hotter-than-expected price data. He said that the labor market was improving but that “there is still a long way to go.”He also said the Fed’s goal of achieving “substantial further progress” toward its economic goals before taking the first steps toward a more normal policy setting “is still a ways off.” More

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    Inflation Likely to Remain High in Coming Months, Fed Chair Powell Says

    Price gains are up “notably,” Jerome Powell told House lawmakers. That’s because of several temporary factors.Jerome H. Powell told House lawmakers that inflation had increased “notably” in the country’s reopening from the pandemic and would most likely stay higher in the next months before moderating.Pool photo by Graeme JenningsJerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, told House lawmakers on Wednesday that inflation had increased “notably” and was poised to remain higher in coming months before moderating — but he gave no indication that the recent jump in prices will spur central bankers to rush to change policy.The Fed chair attributed rapid price gains to factors tied to the economy’s reopening from the pandemic, and indicated in response to questioning that Fed officials expected inflation to begin calming in six months or so.Mr. Powell testified before the Financial Services Committee at a fraught moment both politically and economically, given the recent spike in inflation. The Consumer Price Index jumped 5.4 percent in June from a year earlier, the biggest increase since 2008 and a larger move than economists had expected. Price pressures appear poised to last longer than policymakers at the White House or Fed anticipated.“Inflation has increased notably and will likely remain elevated in coming months before moderating,” Mr. Powell said in his opening remarks.He later acknowledged that “the incoming inflation data have been higher than expected and hoped for,” but he said the gains were coming from a “small group” of goods and services directly tied to reopening.Mr. Powell attributed the continuing pop in prices to a series of factors: temporary data quirks, supply constraints that ought to “partially reverse” and a surge in demand for services that were hit hard by the pandemic.He said longer-run inflation expectations remained under control — which matters because inflation outlooks help shape the future path for prices. And he made it clear that if the situation got out of hand, the Fed would be prepared to react.“We are monitoring the situation very carefully, and we are committed to price stability,” Mr. Powell said. He added that “if we were to see that inflation were remaining high and remaining materially higher above our target for a period of time — and that it was threatening to uproot inflation expectations and create a risk of a longer period of inflation — then we would absolutely change our policy as appropriate.”For now, the Fed chair voiced comfort with the central bank’s relatively patient policy path even in light of the hotter-than-expected price data. He said that the labor market was improving but that “there is still a long way to go.” He also said the Fed’s goal of achieving “substantial further progress” toward its economic goals before taking the first steps toward a more normal policy setting “is still a ways off.”Fed officials are debating when and how to slow their $120 billion of monthly government-backed bond purchases, which would be the first step in moving policy away from an emergency mode. Those discussions will continue “in coming meetings,” Mr. Powell said.The central bank is also keeping its policy interest rate near zero, which helps borrowing remain cheap for consumers and businesses. Officials have set out a higher standard for lifting that rate from rock bottom: They want the economy to return to full employment and inflation to be on track to average 2 percent over time.The Fed’s guidance states that officials want to see inflation “moderately” above 2 percent for a time, and Mr. Powell was asked on Wednesday what that standard meant when price pressures were so strong.“Inflation is not moderately above 2 percent — it’s well above 2 percent,” Mr. Powell said of the current data. “The question will be where does this leave us in six months or so — when inflation, as we expect, does move down — how will the guidance work? And it will depend on the path of the economy.”Raising rates is not yet up for discussion, officials have said publicly and privately. The bulk of the Fed’s policy-setting committee does not expect to lift borrowing costs until 2023, based on its latest economic projections.Given Mr. Powell’s comments, that watchful stance is unlikely to shift, economists said.“We still don’t think higher inflation will result in a quicker policy tightening,” Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, wrote in response to Mr. Powell’s prepared testimony. “Asset purchases probably won’t start to be tapered until next year, with interest rates not raised until the first half of 2023.”The Fed is weighing the risks of higher inflation against the huge number of people who remain out of work. Congress has tasked the central bank with fostering both stable prices and maximum employment. While price pressures have picked up markedly, there are still 6.8 million fewer jobs than there were in February 2020, the month before pandemic layoffs started in earnest.That so many people remain out of work is something of a surprise, because employers report widespread labor shortages, and wage increases and signing bonuses abound as they try to lure talent.“Labor shortages were often cited as a reason firms could not staff at desired levels,” according to the Fed’s latest “Beige Book” of anecdotal economic reports from business contacts across its 12 districts. “All districts noted an increased use of nonwage cash incentives to attract and retain workers.”Mr. Powell said he expected people to return to work as health concerns abated and other issues keeping people sidelined faded, and he predicted that “job gains should be strong in coming months.” More

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    C.P.I. Climbed 5.4 Percent in June

    A key measure of inflation jumped sharply in June, a gain that is sure to keep concerns over rising prices front and center at the White House and Federal Reserve.The Consumer Price Index climbed by 5.4 percent in the year through June, the Labor Department said, as prices for used cars and trucks increased rapidly. The increase was more than the 5 percent increase reported in May and was the largest year-over-year gain since 2008.Investors, lawmakers and central bank officials are closely watching inflation, which has been elevated in recent months by both a quirk in the data and by mismatches between demand and supply as the economy rebounds. Quick price gains can squeeze consumers if wages do not keep up, and the pickup could prod the central bank to pull back on support for the economy if it looks if the inflation is going to prove sustained. The Fed’s cheap-money policies are generally good for markets, so a rapid withdrawal would be bad news for investors in stocks and other asset classes.Policymakers expect inflation will fade as the economy gets through a volatile pandemic reopening period, but how quickly that will happen is unclear. Prices have climbed faster than officials at the Fed had predicted earlier this year, certain measures of consumer inflation expectations have risen — something that could make inflation a self-fulfilling prophecy if it becomes more extreme — and some officials at the central bank are increasingly wary. At the same time, markets have become more sanguine about the outlook for inflation. The index rose 0.9 percent from May to June, faster than the 0.6 percent month-over-month increase the prior month and far more than economists had expected.Stripping out volatile food and fuel costs, the C.P.I. also climbed 0.9 percent over the month, up from 0.7 percent the prior month.Part of the annual jump owes to a data quirk. The “base effect” is a wonky way to say that because prices fell last year, gains in the price index look artificially high this year. The quirk was at its most extreme in May, and started to fade slightly in June’s data, though it remains a factor behind the larger-than-usual increase.This is a developing story. Check back for updates. More

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    The Bond Market Is Telling Us to Worry About Growth, Not Inflation

    The economy remains hot, but the future is looking less buoyant than it did just a short while ago.Steam rising from a grate in New York’s financial district on Thursday morning. Swings in the bond market this week pointed to more subdued expectations about inflation.Mark Lennihan/Associated PressFor months, the United States has been experiencing the growing pains of an economy rebooting itself — surging economic activity, yes, but also shortages, gummed-up supply networks and higher prices.Now, shifts in financial markets point to a reversal of that economic narrative. Specifically, the bond market has swung in ways that suggest that a period of slower growth and more subdued inflation could lie ahead.The yield on 10-year Treasury bonds fell to 1.29 percent on Thursday, down from a recent high of 1.75 percent at the end of March and the fourth straight trading day of decline. The closing price of inflation-protected bonds implied expectations of consumer price inflation at 2.25 percent a year over the coming decade, down from 2.54 percent in early May.These are hardly panic-worthy numbers. They are not the kind of jaw-dropping swings that markets show in moments of extreme turbulence, and analysts attribute the moves in significant part to technical factors as big investors shift their portfolios.Moreover, there is a reasonable argument that the economy will be better over the medium term if it experiences moderate growth and low inflation, as opposed to the kind of breakneck growth — paired with shortages and inflation — seen in the last few months.But the price swings do show an economy in flux, and they undermine arguments that the United States is settling into a new, high-inflation reality for the indefinite future.In effect, the bet in markets on explosive growth and resulting inflation is giving way to a more mixed story. The economy remains hot at the moment; the quarter that just ended will most likely turn out to be one of the strongest for growth in history. But market prices aim to reflect the future, not the present, and the future is looking less buoyant than it did not long ago.The peak months for injection of federal stimulus dollars into the economy have passed. The legislative outlook for major federal initiatives on infrastructure and family support has become murkier. The rapid spread of the Delta variant of Covid-19 has brought new concern for the global economic outlook, especially in places with low vaccination rates. That, in turn, could both hold back demand for American exports and cause continued supply problems that result in slower growth in the United States.“The overriding concern being reflected in the bond market is that peak growth has been reached, and the benefits from fiscal policy are starting to fade,” said Sophie Griffiths, a market analyst with the foreign exchange brokerage Oanda, in a research note.The evidence of a more measured growth path was evident, for example, in a report from the Institute for Supply Management this week. It showed the service sector was continuing to expand rapidly in June, but considerably less rapidly than it had in May. Anecdotes included in the report supported the idea that supply problems were holding back the pace of expansion.“Business conditions continue to rebound; however, like everywhere, the challenges in the supply chain are numerous,” reported one anonymous retailer that participated in the I.S.M. survey. “We continue to see cost increases, delayed shipments, pushed-out lead times, and no clarity as to when predictive balance returns to this market.”The bond market shifts could leave the Federal Reserve wrong-footed in contemplating plans to unwind its efforts to support the economy. At a policy meeting three weeks ago, some Fed officials were ready to proceed with tapering bond purchases in the near future, and some expected to raise interest rates next year, in contrast with a more patient approach that Jerome Powell, the Fed chairman, has advocated.In one of the odder paradoxes of monetary policy, what was perceived in markets as greater openness at the Fed to raising interest rates has contributed to declines in long-term interest rates. Global investors are betting that potential pre-emptive monetary tightening will cause a stronger dollar, slower growth and less ability for the Fed to raise rates in the future without tanking the economy.“The market read the views of the minority within the Fed about tapering and about raising rates as signals the Fed has blinked on its decision to allow the economy to run hot,” said Steven Ricchiuto, chief U.S. economist at Mizuho Securities. “A weaker global economy and stronger U.S. dollar all imply greater potential for us to import global deflation.”There are silver linings to the reassessment taking place in markets. Lower long-term rates make borrowing cheaper for Americans — whether that is Congress and the Biden administration considering how to pay for infrastructure plans, or home buyers trying to afford a house.And the adjustment in bond prices can give Fed officials more confidence that inflation is set to be consistent with their goals in the years ahead, even as businesses face supply shortages and spiking wages at the moment.For example, bond prices now imply that inflation will be 2.1 percent per year between five and 10 years from now, down from expectations of 2.4 percent in early May. The Fed aims for 2 percent inflation (though targeting a different inflation measure from the one that is used in the value of inflation-protected bonds).That could make it less likely the Fed acts prematurely out of fear that inflation will get out of control, recent communication problems notwithstanding.Markets aren’t all-knowing, and the signals being sent by bond prices could turn out to be wrong. But investors with, collectively, trillions of dollars on the line are betting that the rip-roaring economy of summer 2021 is going to give way to something a good bit less exciting. More

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    Gas Price Increase Poses Challenge to U.S. Economy

    Experts say a period of costlier fuel is likely to be brief. But if consumers start to assume otherwise, it could mean problems for Biden and the Fed.As the U.S. economy struggles to emerge from its pandemic-induced hibernation, consumers and businesses have encountered product shortages, hiring difficulties and often conflicting public health guidance, among other challenges.Now the recovery faces a more familiar foe: rising oil and gasoline prices.West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil-price benchmark, hit $76.98 a barrel on Tuesday, its highest level in six years, as OPEC, Russia and their allies again failed to agree on production increases. Prices moderated later in the day but remained nearly $10 a barrel higher than in mid-May.Reflecting the increase in crude prices, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States has risen to $3.13, according to AAA, up from $3.05 a month ago. A year ago, as the coronavirus kept people home, gas cost just $2.18 a gallon on average. The auto club said on Tuesday that it expected prices to increase another 10 to 20 cents through the end of August.The price of a gallon of gas

    Note: Weekly prices through Monday. Data is not seasonally adjusted and includes all formulations of regular gasoline.Source: Energy Information AdministrationBy The New York TimesThe rapid run-up comes at a delicate moment for the U.S. economy, which was already experiencing the fastest inflation in years amid resurgent consumer activity and supply-chain bottlenecks. And it could cause a political headache for President Biden as he tries to convince the public that his policies are helping the country regain its footing.Asked about oil prices at a White House news conference on Tuesday, Jen Psaki, the press secretary, said the administration was monitoring the situation and had been in touch with officials from Saudi Arabia and other major producers. But she suggested that the president had limited control over gas prices.“There sometimes is a misunderstanding of what causes gas prices to increase,” Ms. Psaki said. “The supply availability of oil has a huge impact.”Indeed, energy experts said the recent jump in oil prices had more to do with global economic and geopolitical forces than with domestic policies. Global energy demand slumped when the pandemic hit last year, eventually leading the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies to cut production to prevent a collapse in prices. Demand has begun to rebound as economic activity resumes, but production has not kept pace: OPEC Plus, the alliance of oil producers, on Monday called off a teleconference to discuss increasing output.The direct economic impact of higher oil prices will probably be substantially more modest than in past decades. Energy overall plays a smaller role in the economy because of improved efficiency and a shift away from manufacturing, and the rise of renewable energy means the United States is less reliant on oil in particular.In addition, the surge in domestic oil production in recent years means that rising oil prices are no longer an unambiguous negative for the U.S. economy: Higher prices are bad news for drivers and consumers, but good news for oil companies and their workers, and the vast network of equipment manufacturers and service providers that supply them. Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at the accounting firm RSM, said oil prices of $80 or even $100 a barrel didn’t concern him. Not until prices top $120 a barrel would he start to worry seriously about the economic impact, he said.“The world has changed,” Mr. Brusuelas said. “The risks aren’t what they once were.”Still, the costs of higher prices will not be felt equally. Poor and working-class Americans drive older, less efficient cars and trucks and spend more of their incomes on fuel.Higher oil prices are no longer an altogether bad thing for the U.S. economy, but they are a particular burden to poor and working-class Americans.Audra Melton for The New York TimesScott Hanson of Western Springs, Ill., said $40 was enough to fill up his gas tank last year, when he lost his job as an office manager because of the pandemic. Now Mr. Hanson is paying over $60 to fill his Dodge Charger, making trips to take his mother to her medical appointments more expensive. Gas in Illinois is averaging $3.36 a gallon, according to AAA.“It’s too much for too many people that lost their jobs or have low-paying jobs,” Mr. Hanson said. “Everything bad that could happen is happening all at once.”Gas prices also remain a potent and highly visible symbol of rising prices when many consumers — and some economists — are nervous about inflation. Consumer prices rose 5 percent in May from a year earlier, the biggest annual increase in more than a decade, and forecasters expect figures for June, which will be released next week, to show another significant increase.Policymakers at the Federal Reserve have said they expect the increase in inflation to be short-lived, and they are unlikely to change that view based on an increase in energy prices, which are often volatile even in normal times, said Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo.But if rising oil prices lead consumers and businesses to believe that faster inflation will continue, that could be a harder problem for the Fed. Economic research suggests that prices of things that consumers buy often, such as food and gasoline, weigh particularly heavily on their expectations for inflation. With public opinion surveys showing increasing concern about inflation, rising oil prices increase the risk of a more lasting shift in expectations, said David Wilcox, a former Fed economist who is now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.“I don’t expect the price of oil to be the last straw on the camel’s back, but it is another straw on a camel’s back that’s already carrying a fair amount of baggage,” Mr. Wilcox said. “There is a much greater risk today of an inflationary psychology taking hold than I would have said three to five years ago.”Republicans have seized on rising prices to criticize Mr. Biden’s energy policies, including his decision to cancel permits for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and his pause on selling new oil leases on federal lands, a move that a federal judge has blocked.“Bad policy is already creating conditions like higher gasoline prices that we haven’t seen in a very long time,” Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, wrote in an opinion essay last week. (Energy experts say Mr. Biden’s policies have had no meaningful impact on oil prices.)Ms. Psaki noted that Mr. Biden had consistently opposed an increase in the federal gas tax, which some Republican senators and business groups had advocated to help fund spending on infrastructure. The deal Mr. Biden reached with a bipartisan group of senators last month did not include a gas tax increase.“Ensuring Americans don’t bear a burden at the pump continues to be a top priority for the administration writ large,” Ms. Psaki said. “That’s one of the core reasons why the president was opposed — vehemently opposed — to a gas tax and any tax on vehicle mileage, because he felt that would on the backs of Americans. And that was a bottom-line red line for him.”Domestic oil production is expected to rise in coming months as higher prices and rising demand lead companies to step up drilling. But any rebound is likely to be gradual. U.S. oil companies have been cautious about investing in new exploration and production over the last year, even as oil prices have roughly doubled from the first half of 2020, when the pandemic punctured demand. Company executives say they are focused on share buybacks and debt reduction as sales rise.The Energy Department predicts that production will average 11.1 million barrels a day this year and 11.8 million barrels a day in 2022, 400,000 barrels a day less than in 2019.Even without a surge in domestic oil production, many forecasters doubt that prices will continue to rise at their recent pace. OPEC members generally agree that production should increase; they just disagree about how much. And a new nuclear deal with Iran or a thawing of U.S.-Venezuela relations could bring a flood of new supplies. Iran alone could potentially add 2.5 million to three million barrels of oil daily on the global market, or roughly a 3 percent addition to supplies.At the same time, the spread of new coronavirus variants has led some countries to reimpose or tighten restrictions on activity, which could dampen demand for oil. Capital Economics, a forecasting firm, said on Tuesday that it expected oil prices to peak at about $80 a barrel before falling back as supply increases. But the firm said that a collapse in prices or a further spike both remained possible.Reporting was contributed by More