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    Rent Is Harder to Handle and Inflation Is a Burden, a Fed Financial Survey Finds

    The Federal Reserve’s 2023 survey on household financial well-being found Americans excelling in the job market but struggling with prices.American households struggled to cover some day-to-day expenses in 2023, including rent, and many remained glum about inflation even as price increases slowed.That’s one of several takeaways from a new Federal Reserve report on the financial well-being of American households. The report suggested that American households remained in similar financial shape to 2022 — but its details also provided a split screen view of the U.S. economy.On the one hand, households feel good about their job and wage growth prospects and are saving for retirement, evidence that the benefits of very low unemployment and rapid hiring are tangible. And about 72 percent of adults reported either doing OK or living comfortably financially, in line with 73 percent the year before.But that optimistic share is down from 78 percent in 2021, when households had just benefited from repeated pandemic stimulus checks. And signs of financial stress tied to higher prices lingered, and in some cases intensified, just under the report’s surface.Inflation cooled notably over the course of 2023, falling to 3.4 percent at the end of the year from 6.5 percent going into the year. Yet 65 percent of adults said that price changes had made their financial situation worse. People with lower income were much more likely to report that strain: Ninety-six percent of people making less than $25,000 said that their situations had been made worse.Renters also reported increasing challenges in keeping up with their bills. The report showed that 19 percent of renters reported being behind on their rent at some point in the year, up two percentage points from 2022.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Inside the Rent Inflation Measure That Economics Nerds Love to Hate

    There’s a three-letter abbreviation that economists have started pronouncing with the energy of a four-letter word: “O.E.R.”It stands for owner’s equivalent rent, and it has been used to measure American housing inflation since the 1980s. As its name suggests, it uses a combination of surveys and market data to estimate how much it would cost homeowners to rent the house they live in.But three years into America’s price pop, it has become almost cliché for economists to hate on the housing measure. Detractors blast if for being so slow-moving that it does not reflect up-to-date conditions in the economy. Critics argue that it uses convoluted statistical methods that make little sense. The most intense haters insist that it is giving a false impression about where inflation stands.“It’s just not adding anything to our understanding of inflation,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and a frequent adviser to the Biden administration. Full disclosure: The New York Times called Mr. Zandi for this article because he has been one of the many economists grousing about O.E.R. on social media. He said he was “not a fan.”What has this one nerdy inflation component done to earn so much vitriol?It is preventing an economic happy ending, more or less. Housing inflation measures have been surprisingly sticky over the past year, and they are now a major barrier keeping price increases overall from returning to normal. That has knock-on effects: Because of inflation’s staying power, the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates at a more than two-decade high to try to wrestle prices under control by slowing the economy.But while there’s no denying that O.E.R. has become a main character in America’s inflationary tale, not everyone thinks it is the bad guy. Some economists think it is a valid and reasonable way to measure an important part of the consumer experience. Ahead of a fresh Consumer Price Index report set for release on Wednesday morning, there are a few key facts to understand about how housing inflation is calculated, what it means and what it might do next.Housing Inflation Remains Stubbornly HighEconomists had expected two measures of rental inflation to fade in 2023 and 2024, but that process is taking time to play out.

    Note: Inflation measures are shown as rates of annual change.Source: The Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesConsumer Price Index Inflation Remains HotterThe Consumer Price Index is climbing faster than the Personal Consumption Expenditures index, in large part because it weights housing more heavily.

    Note: Indexes are shown as annual change.Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and Commerce DepartmentBy The New York TimesWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    High Interest Rates Are Hitting Poorer Americans the Hardest

    The economy as a whole has proved resilient amid the highest rates in decades. But beneath the surface, many low- and moderate-income families are struggling.High interest rates haven’t crashed the financial system, set off a wave of bankruptcies or caused the recession that many economists feared.But for millions of low- and moderate-income families, high rates are taking a toll.More Americans are falling behind on payments on credit card and auto loans, even as many are taking on more debt than ever before. Monthly interest expenses have soared since the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates two years ago. For families already strained by high prices, dwindling savings and slowing wage growth, increased borrowing costs are pushing them closer to the financial edge.“It’s crazy,” said Ora Dorsey, a 43-year-old Army veteran in Clarksville, Tenn. “It does make it hard to get out of debt. It seems like you’re only paying the interest.”Ms. Dorsey has been working for years to chip away at the debts she accrued when a series of health issues left her temporarily out of work. Now she is juggling three jobs to try to pay off thousands of dollars in credit card balances and other debts. She is making progress, but high rates aren’t helping.“How am I supposed to retire?” she asked. “I’m not able to save, have that rainy-day fund, because I’m trying to take down the debt that I have.”Ms. Dorsey isn’t likely to get relief soon. Fed officials have indicated that they expect to keep interest rates at their current level, the highest in decades, for months. And while policymakers still say they are likely to cut rates eventually, assuming inflation slows down as expected, they could consider raising them further if prices begin rising faster again. The latest evidence will come on Wednesday when the Labor Department releases data showing whether inflation cooled in April, or remained uncomfortably hot for a fourth straight month.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    What Forecasters Say About Interest Rates (and Why They Disagree)

    Hopes for a steep drop in borrowing costs for consumers and businesses have been dashed. But some experts predict modest reductions in coming months.How soon is soon? Or exactly how much later is later?As the year started, there was a widespread view among economists and on Wall Street that the Federal Reserve would lower interest rates in the first half of the year. Maybe in March, maybe in May, but sooner rather than later.That long-awaited moment, two years after the Fed began ratcheting up rates to their highest level in decades, held the prospect of brightening consumer sentiment, increasing company valuations and improving corporate financing opportunities. It was called “the pivot party,” and everyone was invited.But three months of hotter-than-expected inflation data followed. Financial markets then projected that the Fed would lower rates once, near the end of the year, or not at all — based on a view that the central bank will see little merit in such a move as long as inflation remains a bit elevated and employment is growing.Interest rates for home and car loans tilted up again. And it seems the pivot party has been canceled. But some experts argue that it has only been postponed, leaving forecasters divided about what the rest of the year will bring.Camp 1: Inflation Is Coming Under ControlSome market analysts and bank economists are making the case that rate cuts are still on the table. The April jobs report, which implied a cooling labor market and softer wage growth, gave them some fodder.These analysts generally contend that current measures of inflation are overstated because of lagging indicators, reflecting cost pressures from over a year ago, that will ebb in summer. And they believe that while the diffuse process of stabilizing prices, formally called disinflation, may face setbacks (especially any oil shock), it is on track.After a wild ride, inflation has dropped back to lower levels, according to the Fed’s preferred measure.The annual percent change in the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index

    Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis By The New York TimesA measure of U.S. inflation that excludes an estimate of homeownership costs suggests that price increases are less rapid.The annual percentage change in the Consumer Price Index compared with the change in the Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices. H.I.C.P. is an inflation measure commonly used in other countries that excludes “owners’ equivalent rent,” an estimate of how much it may cost homeowners to rent a similar home.

    Source: Eurostat and Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    U.S. Job Market Eases, but Hiring Remains Firm

    Employers added 175,000 jobs in April, a milder pace than in the winter months, though layoffs have remained low and most sectors appear stable.The American job market may be shifting into a lower gear this spring, a turn that economists have expected for months after a vigorous rebound from the pandemic shock.Employers added 175,000 positions in April, the Labor Department reported Friday, undershooting forecasts. The unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9 percent.A less torrid expansion after the 242,000-job average over the prior 12 months isn’t necessarily bad news, given that layoffs have remained low and most sectors appear stable.“It’s not a bad economy; it’s still a healthy economy,” said Perc Pineda, chief economist at the Plastics Industry Association. “I think it’s part of the cycle. We cannot continue robust growth indefinitely considering the limits of our economy.”The labor market has defied projections of a considerable slowdown for over a year in the face of a rapid escalation in borrowing costs, a minor banking crisis and two major wars. But economic growth declined markedly in the first quarter, suggesting that the exuberance of the last two years might be settling into a more sustainable rhythm.Year-over-year percentage change in earnings vs. inflation More

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    Fed Holds Rates Steady, Noting Lack of Progress on Inflation

    The Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged for a sixth straight meeting and suggested that rates would stay high for longer.Federal Reserve officials left interest rates unchanged and signaled that they were wary about how stubborn inflation was proving, paving the way for a longer period of high borrowing costs.The Fed held rates steady at 5.3 percent on Wednesday, leaving them at a more than two-decade high, where they have been set since July. Central bankers reiterated that they needed “greater confidence” that inflation was coming down before reducing them.“Readings on inflation have come in above expectations,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said at a news conference after the release of the central bank’s rate decision.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said that the central bank needed “greater confidence” that inflation was coming down before it decided to cut interest rates, which are at a two-decade high.Susan Walsh/Associated PressThe Fed stands at a complicated economic juncture. After months of rapid cooling, inflation has proved surprisingly sticky in early 2024. The Fed’s preferred inflation index has made little progress since December, and although it is down sharply from its 7.1 percent high in 2022, its current 2.7 percent is still well above the Fed’s 2 percent goal. That calls into question how soon and how much officials will be able to lower interest rates.“What we’ve said is that we need to be more confident” that inflation is coming down sufficiently and sustainably before cutting rates, Mr. Powell said. “It appears that it’s going to take longer for us to reach that point of confidence.”The Fed raised interest rates quickly between early 2022 and the summer of 2023, hoping to slow the economy by tamping down demand, which would in turn help to wrestle inflation under control. Higher Fed rates trickle through financial markets to push up mortgage, credit card and business loan rates, which can cool both consumption and company expansions over time.But Fed policymakers stopped raising rates last year because inflation had begun to come down and the economy appeared to be cooling, making them confident that they had done enough. They have held rates steady for six straight meetings, and as recently as March, they had expected to make three interest rate cuts in 2024. Now, though, inflation’s recent staying power has made that look less likely.Many economists have begun to push back their expectations for when rate reductions will begin, and investors now expect only one or two this year. Odds that the Fed will not cut rates at all this year have increased notably over the past month.Mr. Powell made it clear on Wednesday that officials still thought that their next policy move was likely to be a rate cut and said that a rate increase was “unlikely.” But he demurred when asked whether three reductions were likely in 2024.He laid out pathways in which the Fed would — or would not — cut rates. He said that if inflation came down or the labor market weakened, borrowing costs could come down.On the other hand, “if we did have a path where inflation proves more persistent than expected, and where the labor market remains strong, but inflation is moving sideways and we’re not gaining greater confidence, well, that could be a case in which it could be appropriate to hold off on rate cuts,” Mr. Powell said.Investors responded favorably to Mr. Powell’s news conference, likely because he suggested that the bar for raising rates was high and that rates could come down in multiple scenarios. Stocks rose and bond yields fell as Mr. Powell spoke.“The big surprise was how reluctant Powell was to talk about rate hikes,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan. “He really seemed to say that the options are cutting or not cutting.”Still, a longer period of high Fed rates will be felt from Wall Street to Main Street. Key stock indexes fell in April as investors came around to the idea that borrowing costs could remain high for longer, and mortgage rates have crept back above 7 percent, making home buying pricier for many want-to-be owners.Fed officials are planning to keep rates high for a reason: They want to be sure to stamp out inflation fully to prevent quickly rising prices from becoming a more permanent part of America’s economy.Policymakers are closely watching how inflation data shape up as they try to figure out their next steps. Economists still expect that price increases will start to slow down again in the months to come, in particular as rent increases fade from key price measures.“My expectation is that we will, over the course of this year, see inflation move back down,” Mr. Powell said on Wednesday. But he added that “my confidence in that is lower than it was because of the data that we’ve seen.”As the Fed tries to assess the outlook, officials are likely to also keep an eye on momentum in the broader economy. Economists generally think that when the economy is hot — when companies are hiring a lot, consumers are spending and growth is rapid — prices tend to increase more quickly. Growth and hiring have not slowed down as much as one might have expected given today’s high interest rates. A key measure of wages climbed more rapidly than expected this week, and economists are now closely watching a jobs report scheduled for release on Friday for any hint that hiring remains robust.But so far, policymakers have generally been comfortable with the economy’s resilience.That is partly because growth has been driven by improving economic supply: Employers have been hiring as the labor pool grows, for instance, in part because immigration has been rapid.Beyond that, there are hints that the economy is beginning to cool around the edges. Overall economic growth slowed in the first quarter, though that pullback came from big shifts in business inventories and international trade, which often swing wildly from one quarter to the next. Small-business confidence is low. Job openings have come down substantially.Mr. Powell said Wednesday that he thought higher borrowing costs were weighing on the economy.“We believe that our policy stance is in a good place and is appropriate to the current situation — we believe it’s restrictive,” Mr. Powell said.As the Fed waits to make interest rate cuts, some economists have begun to warn that the central bank’s adjustments could collide with the political calendar.Donald J. Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican nominee, has already suggested that interest rate cuts this year would be a political move meant to help President Biden’s re-election bid by pumping up the economy. Some economists think that cutting in the weeks leading up to the election — either in September or November — could put the Fed in an uncomfortable position, drawing further ire and potentially making the institution look political.The Fed is independent of the White House, and its officials have repeatedly said that they will not take politics into account when setting interest rates, but will rather be guided by the data.Mr. Powell reiterated on Wednesday that the Fed did not and would not take into account political considerations in timing its rate moves.“If you go down that road, where do you stop? So we’re not on that road,” Mr. Powell said. “It just isn’t part of our thinking.” More

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    The Fed Tries to Steer Clear of Politics, but Election Year Is Making It Tough

    Economists are wondering whether political developments could play into both the Fed’s near-term decisions and its long-term independence.Federal Reserve officials are fiercely protective of their separation from politics, but the presidential election is putting the institution on a crash course with partisan wrangling.Fed officials set policy independently of the White House, meaning that while presidents can push for lower interest rates, they cannot force central bankers to cut borrowing costs. Congress oversees the Fed, but it, too, lacks power to directly influence rate decisions.There’s a reason for that separation. Incumbent politicians generally want low interest rates, which help to stoke economic growth by making borrowing cheap. But the Fed uses higher interest rates to keep inflation slow and steady — and if politicians forced to keep rates low and goose the economy all the time, it could allow those price increases to rocket out of control.In light of the Fed’s independence, presidents have largely avoided talking about central bank policy at all ever since the early 1990s. Pressuring officials for lower rates was unlikely to help, administrations reasoned, and could actually backfire by prodding policymakers to keep rates higher for longer to prove that they were independent from the White House.But Donald J. Trump upended that norm when he was president. He called Fed officials “boneheads” and implied that Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, was an “enemy” of America for keeping rates too high. And he has already talked about the Fed in political terms as he campaigns as the presumptive Republican nominee, suggesting that cutting interest rates before November would be a ploy to help President Biden win a second term.Some of Mr. Trump’s allies outside his campaign have proposed that the Fed’s regulatory functions should be subject to White House review. Mr. Trump has also said that he intends to bring all “independent agencies” under White House control, although he and his campaign have not specifically addressed directing the Fed’s decisions on interest rates.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More