The Personal Consumption Expenditures Index climbed more slowly, after cutting out food and fuel prices for a sense of the underlying trend.Federal Reserve officials received more good news in their battle against rapid inflation on Friday, when a key inflation measure continued to slow, the latest evidence that a return to normal after the pandemic and higher interest rates are combining to wrestle rapid price increases back to a more normal pace.The Personal Consumption Expenditures Index, which the central bank uses to define its 2 percent inflation goal, is still climbing rapidly on an overall basis. It rose 3.5 percent in August from the previous year, pushed up by higher gas prices, up slightly from 3.4 percent previously.But after stripping out food and fuel costs, both of which are volatile, a “core” measure that Fed officials watch closely appeared much more benign. It picked up by 3.9 percent from a year earlier. Compared with the previous month, it climbed by 0.1 percent, a very muted pace.It’s the latest encouraging sign for Fed policymakers, who have been raising interest rates since March 2022 in a campaign to slow the economy and cool price increases. While economic momentum has held up better than expected, a less ebullient housing market and a grinding return to normalcy in the car market have helped key prices — like automobile and rents — to fade. At the same time, supply chain disruptions that led to shortages and starkly pushed up prices starting in 2021 have gradually cleared up, allowing costs for many goods to stop rising or even come down slightly.Given the progress, central bankers are now contemplating whether they need to raise interest rates further. They left them unchanged and in range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent at their meeting this month, while forecasting that they might make one more rate increase this year. At the same time, given how strong the economy remains, officials have signaled that they may need to leave interest rates set to a high level for longer to ensure that inflation returns to normal in a sustainable way.“We’re taking advantage of the fact that we have moved quickly to move a little more carefully now,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, said during a news conference following the Fed’s meeting last week.The question now is whether inflation can fade fully — getting back to something near the Fed’s 2 percent goal and staying there — without a bigger economic slowdown.Multiple data points and anecdotes, from retail sales figures to some company earnings calls, have suggested that American consumers are managing to keep spending despite higher borrowing costs, which have made it more expensive to make big purchases on borrowed money.Friday’s report showed that personal consumption expenditures climbed 0.4 percent in August from a month before, slightly softer than what economists had expected. Spending eked out a small increase after adjusting for inflation.Historically, it has been difficult for the Fed to wrestle inflation lower without causing a big economic slowdown. Companies will generally raise prices if they can, so it requires slower demand to force them to stop. Fed policy is a blunt tool, so it is hard to calibrate it exactly.But increasingly, central bankers have been signaling that they are hopeful they will be able to pull off a rare “soft landing,” cooling price increases without killing growth.“At the end of the day, we will get inflation back to our target, whatever that takes,” Austan Goolsbee, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said during a speech this week. “But we also can’t lose sight of the fact that the Fed has the chance to achieve something quite rare in the history of central banks: to defeat inflation without tanking the economy.” More
A lapse in funding would delay data on unemployment and inflation as policymakers try to avoid a recession.A federal government shutdown would cut off access to key data on unemployment, inflation and spending just as policymakers are trying to guide the economy to a “soft landing” and avoid a recession.Federal statistical agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis, will suspend operations unless Congress reaches a deal before Sunday to fund the government. Even a short shutdown would probably delay high-profile data releases — including the monthly jobs report, scheduled for Oct. 6, and the Consumer Price Index, scheduled for Oct. 12.This isn’t the first time government shutdowns have threatened economic data. The 16-day lapse in funding in 2013 delayed dozens of releases, including the September employment report. A longer but less extensive shutdown in 2018 and 2019 spared the Bureau of Labor Statistics but held up reports from the Commerce Department, including data on gross domestic product.But this shutdown, if it occurs, comes at a particularly sensitive time for the economy. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve have been trying to tame inflation without causing a recession — a balancing act that requires central bankers to fine tune their strategy based on how the economy responds.“Monetary policy, even in normal times, is a complicated undertaking — we are not in a normal time now,” said David Wilcox, a longtime Fed staff member who is now an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and Bloomberg Economics. “It’s not a good strategy to take a task that is so difficult and make it harder by restricting the information flow to monetary policymakers at this delicate moment.”A short shutdown, similar to the one a decade ago, would delay data releases but probably wouldn’t do much longer-term damage. Data for the September jobs report, for example, has already been collected; it would take government statisticians only a few days to finish the report and release it after the government reopened. In that situation, most major statistics would probably be updated by the time the Fed next meets on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.But the longer a shutdown goes on, the more lasting the potential damage. Labor force statistics, for example, are based on a survey conducted in the middle of each month — if the government doesn’t reopen in time to conduct the October survey on schedule, the resulting data could be less accurate, as respondents struggle to recall what they were doing weeks earlier. Other data, such as information on consumer prices, could be all but impossible to recover after the fact.“If we miss two months of collecting data, we’re never getting that back,” said Betsey Stevenson, a University of Michigan economist who was a member of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers during the 2013 shutdown. “This thing gets more and more and more problematic as the duration goes on.”A longer shutdown would also increase the risk that policymakers misread the economy and make a mistake — perhaps by failing to detect a reacceleration in inflation, or by missing signs that the economy is slipping into a recession.“The thought of the Fed trying to make such an important, critical decision without big pieces of information is just downright terrifying,” said Ben Harris, who was a top official at the Treasury Department until early this year and is now at the Brookings Institution. “It’s like a pilot trying to land a plane without knowing what the runway looks like.”Policymakers wouldn’t be flying completely blind. The Fed, which operates independently and would not be affected by the shutdown, would continue to publish its own data on industrial production, consumer credit and other subjects. And private-sector data providers have expanded significantly in both breadth and quality in recent years, offering alternative sources of information on job openings, employment, wages and consumer spending.“The Fed has always done what it can to gather information from other sources, but now there are more of those sources it can turn to,” said Erica Groshen, a Cornell University economist who served as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics during the 2013 shutdown. “That will make the very data-dependent parts of the policy world and the business community a little less bereft of timely data.”Still, Ms. Groshen said, private data cannot match the breadth, transparency and reliability of official statistics. She recalled that in 2013, Fed officials contacted her department to see if the central bank could provide funding to get the jobs report out on time — a proposal that administration officials ultimately concluded would be illegal.Policymakers aren’t the only ones who will be affected by the lack of data. Trucking companies base fuel surcharges on diesel prices published by the Energy Information Administration. Inventory and sales data from the Census Bureau can influence businesses’ decisions on when to place orders. And the Social Security Administration can’t settle on the annual cost-of-living increase in benefits without October consumer price data. More
Resource-rich countries like Ghana are often cut out of lucrative parts of the business like manufacturing. The “fairchain movement” wants to change that.The first leg of the 35-mile journey from Ghana’s capital city, Accra, to the Fairafric chocolate factory in Amanase on the N6 highway is a quick ride. But after about 30 minutes, the smoothly paved road devolves into a dirt expanse without lanes. Lumbering trucks, packed commuter minivans, cars and motorcycles crawl along craggy, rutted stretches bordered by concrete dividers, muddy patches and heaps of rock.The stopgap roadway infrastructure is one of the challenges Fairafric has had to navigate to build a factory in this West African country. The area had no fiber-optic connection to Ghana’s telecommunications network. No local banks were interested in lending the company money. And it required the personal intervention of Ghana’s president before construction could even begin in 2020.The global chocolate industry is a multibillion-dollar confection, and Africa grows 70 percent of the world’s raw cocoa beans. But it produces only 1 percent of the chocolate — missing out on a part of the business that generates the biggest returns and is dominated by American and European multinationals.The Fairafric chocolate factory powered by solar energy in Amanase, Ghana. The company aims to create stable, well-paying jobs.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesCapturing a bigger share of the profits generated by chocolate sales and keeping them in Ghana — the second-largest cocoa exporter behind Ivory Coast — is the animating vision behind Fairafric. The aim is to manufacture the chocolate and create stable, well-paying jobs in the place where farmers grow the cocoa.Many developing countries are lucky to have large reserves of natural resources. In Ghana, it’s cocoa. In Botswana, it’s diamonds. In Nigeria and Azerbaijan, it’s oil. But the commodity blessing can become a curse when the sector sucks up an outsize share of labor and capital, which in turn hampers the economy from diversifying and stunts long-term growth.“Look at the structure of the economy,” Aurelien Kruse, the lead country economist in the Accra office of the World Bank, said of Ghana. “It’s not an economy that has diversified fully.”The dependency on commodities can lead to boom-and-bust cycles because their prices swing with changes in supply and demand. And without other sectors to rely on during a downturn — like manufacturing or tech services — these economies can crash.“Prices are very volatile,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank. In developing nations dependent on commodities, economic instability is built into the system.Workers making the chocolate products. By keeping manufacturing in Ghana, Fairafric supports other local businesses.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesA batch of chocolate bars being inspected . . .Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times. . . and packaged at the Fairafric chocolate factory.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesBut creating industrial capacity is exceedingly difficult in a place like Ghana. Outside large cities, reliable electricity, water and sanitation systems may need to be set up. The suppliers, skilled workers, and necessary technology and equipment may not be readily available. And start-ups may not initially produce enough volume for export to pay for expensive shipping costs.Fairafric might not have succeeded if its founder and chief executive — a German social-minded entrepreneur named Hendrik Reimers — had not upended the status quo.The pattern of exporting cheap raw materials to richer countries that use them to manufacture valuable finished goods is a hangover from colonial days. Growing and harvesting cocoa is the lowest-paid link in the chocolate value chain. The result is that farmers receive a mere 5 or 6 percent of what a chocolate bar sells for in Paris, Chicago or Tokyo.Mr. Reimers’s goal is aligned with the “fairchain movement,” which argues that the entire production process should be in the country that produces the raw materials.The idea is to create a profitable company and distribute the gains more equitably — among farmers, factory workers and small investors in Ghana. By keeping manufacturing at home, Fairafric supports other local businesses, like the paper company that supplies the chocolate wrappers. It also helps to build infrastructure. Now that Fairafric has installed the fiber optic connections in this rural area, other start-up businesses can plug in.Cocoa pods harvested in a cocoa farm in Ghana.Francis Kokoroko/ReutersA worker from Fairafric chocolate factory visiting a cocoa farm in the Budu community.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesThe last few years have severely tested the strategy. Ghana’s economy was punched by the coronavirus pandemic. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine fueled a rapid increase in food, energy and fertilizer prices. Rising inflation prompted the Federal Reserve and other central banks to raise interest rates.In Ghana, the global headwinds exacerbated problems that stemmed from years of excessive government spending and borrowing.As inflation climbed, reaching a peak of 54 percent, Ghana’s central bank raised interest rates. They are now at 30 percent. Meanwhile, the value of the currency, the cedi, tumbled against the dollar, more than halving the purchasing power of consumers and businesses.At the end of last year, Ghana defaulted on its foreign loans and turned to the International Monetary Fund for emergency relief.“The economic situation of the country has not made it easy,” said Frederick Affum, Fairafric’s accounting manager. “Every kind of funding that we have had has been outside the country.”Even before the national default, Ghana’s local banks were drawn to the high interest rates the government was offering to attract investors wary of its outsize debt. As a result, the banks were reluctant to invest in local businesses. They “didn’t take the risk of investing in the real economy,” said Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, the executive vice president of the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra.“The economic situation of the country has not made it easy,” said Frederick Affum, accounting manager at Fairafric.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesFairafric started with a crowdsourced fund-raising campaign in 2015. A family-owned chocolate company in Germany bought a stake in 2019 and turned Fairafric into a subsidiary.In 2020, a low-interest loan of 2 million euros from a German development bank that supports investments in Africa by European companies was crucial to getting the venture off the ground.Then the pandemic hit, and President Nana Akufo-Addo closed Ghana’s borders and suspended international commercial flights. The shutdown meant that a team of German and Swiss engineers who had been overseeing construction of a solar-powered Fairafric factory in Amanase could not enter the country.So Michael Marmon-Halm, Fairafric’s managing director, wrote a letter to the president appealing for help.“He opened the airport,” Mr. Marmon-Halm said. “This company received the most critical assistance at the most critical moment.”Both Ghana and Ivory Coast, which account for 60 percent of the world cocoa market, have moved to raise the minimum price of cocoa and expand processing inside their borders.In Ghana, the government created a free zone that gives factories a tax break if they export most of their product. And this month, Mr. Akufo-Addo announced an increase in the minimum price that buyers must pay farmers next season.Cocoa pods at a cocoa farm in the Budu community . . .Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times. . . which reveal a pulpy white bean when cracked open.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesFairafric, which buys beans from roughly 70 small farmers in the eastern region of Ghana, goes further, paying a premium for its organically grown beans — an additional $600 per ton above the global market price.Farmers harvest the ripe yellow pods by hand, and then crack them open with a cutlass, or thick stick. The pulpy white beans are stacked under plantain leaves to ferment for a week before they are dried in the sun.On the edge of a cocoa farm in Budu, a few minutes from the factory, a bare-bones, open-sided concrete shed with wooden benches and rectangular blackboards houses the school. Attendance is down, the principal said, because the school has not been included in the government’s free school feeding program.The factory employs 95 people. They have health insurance and are paid above the minimum wage. Salaries are pegged to the dollar to protect against currency fluctuations. Because of spotty transportation networks, the company set up a free commuter van for workers. Fairafric also installed a free canteen so all the factory shifts can eat breakfast, lunch or dinner on site.Mr. Marmon-Halm said the company was looking to raise an additional $1 million to expand. He noted that the chocolate industry generated an enormous amount of wealth.But “if you want to get the full benefit,” he said, “you have to go beyond just selling beans.”Students by a stream in the Budu community, a cocoa farming village.Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times More
White House and Wall Street estimates suggested the economy could withstand a brief shutdown, with risks mounting the longer it lasts.Federal government shutdowns have become so common in recent years that forecasters have a good read on how another one would affect the American economy. The answer is fairly simple: The longer a shutdown lasts, the more damage it is likely to inflict.A brief shutdown would be unlikely to slow the economy significantly or push it into recession, economists on Wall Street and inside the Biden administration have concluded. That assessment is based in part on the evidence from prior episodes where Congress stopped funding many government operations.But a prolonged shutdown could hurt growth and potentially President Biden’s re-election prospects. It would join a series of other factors that are expected to weigh on the economy in the final months of this year, including high interest rates, the restart of federal student loan payments next month and a potentially lengthy United Automobile Workers strike.A halt to federal government business would not just dent growth. It would further dampen the mood of consumers, whose confidence slumped in September for the second straight month amid rising gas prices. In the month that previous shutdowns began, the Conference Board’s measure of consumer confidence slid by an average of seven points, Goldman Sachs economists noted recently, although much of that decline reversed in the month after a reopening.Gregory Daco, the chief economist at EY-Parthenon, said a government shutdown would not be a “game changer in terms of the trajectory of the economy.” But, he added, “the fear is that, if it combines with other headwinds, it could become a significant drag on economic activity.”Jared Bernstein, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement on Wednesday that the council’s internal estimates suggest potential losses of 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points of quarterly economic growth for every week a shutdown persists.“Programmatic impacts from a shutdown would also cause unnecessary economic stress and losses that don’t always show up in G.D.P. — from delaying Small Business Administration loans to eliminating Head Start slots for thousands of children with working parents to jeopardizing nutrition assistance for nearly 7 million mothers and children,” Mr. Bernstein added. “It is irresponsible and reckless for a group of House Republicans to threaten a shutdown.”Goldman Sachs economists have estimated that a shutdown would reduce growth by about 0.2 percentage points for each week it lasts. That’s largely because most federal workers go unpaid during shutdowns, immediately pulling spending power out of the economy. But the Goldman researchers expect growth to increase by the same amount in the quarter after the shutdown as federal work rebounded and furloughed employees received back pay.That estimate tracks with previous work from economists at the Fed, on Wall Street and prior presidential administrations. Trump administration economists calculated that a monthlong shutdown in 2019 reduced growth by 0.13 percentage points per week.After that shutdown ended, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that real gross domestic product was reduced by 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019. Although the office said most of the lost growth would be recovered, it estimated that annual G.D.P. in 2019 would be 0.02 percent lower than it would have been otherwise, amounting to a loss of roughly $3 billion. Because growth and confidence tend to snap back, previous shutdowns have left few permanent scars on the economy. Some economists worry that might not be the case today.Mr. Daco said federal workers might not spend as much as they would have absent a shutdown, and government contractors might not recoup all of their lost business.A long shutdown would also delay the release of important government data on the economy, like monthly reports on jobs and inflation, by forcing the closure of federal statistical agencies. That could prove to be a bigger risk for growth than in the past, by effectively blinding policymakers at the Federal Reserve to information they need to determine whether to raise interest rates again in their fight against inflation.The economy appears healthy enough to absorb a modest temporary hit. The consensus forecast from top economists is for growth to approach 3 percent, on an annualized basis, this quarter. But economists expect growth to slow in the final months of the year, raising the risks of recession if a shutdown lasts several weeks.Diane Swonk, the chief economist at KPMG, said she expected G.D.P. to rise about 4 percent in the third quarter, and then slow to roughly 1 percent in the fourth quarter. She said a two-week shutdown would have a limited impact, but one that lasted for a full quarter would be more problematic, potentially resulting in G.D.P. entering negative territory.“When you start nicking away even a tenth here or there, that’s pretty weak,” Ms. Swonk said.A shutdown could also further convey political dysfunction in Washington, which could rattle investors and push up yields on Treasury bonds, leading to higher borrowing costs, Ms. Swonk said.Biden administration officials had hoped to avoid such dysfunction when they reached a deal with Republicans in June to raise the nation’s borrowing limit. That agreement included caps on federal spending that were meant to be a blueprint for congressional appropriations. A faction of Republicans in the House has pushed for even deeper cuts, driving Congress toward a shutdown.Michael Linden, a former economic aide to Mr. Biden who is now a senior policy fellow at a think tank, the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, said immediate economic effects from the shutdown could force Republican leaders in the House to quickly pass a funding bill to reopen the government.“There’s a reason shutdowns tend to be pretty short,” Mr. Linden said. “They end up causing disruptions that people don’t like.” More
The Federal Reserve is unlikely to declare victory this week. But investors will watch for any hint that the end to rate increases is coming.Federal Reserve officials are expected to leave interest rates unchanged at their meeting on Wednesday, buying themselves more time to assess whether borrowing costs are high enough to weigh down the economy and wrestle inflation under control.But investors are likely to focus less on what policymakers do on Wednesday — and more on what they say about the future. Wall Street will closely watch whether Fed policymakers still expect to make another interest rate increase before the end of the year or whether they are edging closer to the next phase in their fight against rapid inflation.Central bankers have already raised interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent, the highest level in 22 years. By making it more expensive to borrow to buy a house or expand a business, they are trying to slow demand across the economy, making it harder for companies to charge more without losing customers and slowing price increases.Officials predicted in their last quarterly economic forecast — released in June — that they were likely to make one more rate increase before the end of 2023. They have kept that possibility alive throughout the summer even as inflation has begun to fade meaningfully. But key policymakers have sounded less intent on making another move in recent weeks.The Fed’s chair, Jerome H. Powell, had suggested in June that further adjustment was “likely.” More recently, including during a closely watched speech in August, he said policymakers could nudge rates up “if appropriate.”Jerome H. Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, said in August that policymakers could nudge rates up “if appropriate.”T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York TimesFed officials will release economic projections after their gathering this week, which takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday, offering a fresh look at whether most policymakers still think one final rate increase is likely to be necessary. The projections will also show how officials are interpreting a confusing moment in the economy, when consumer spending has been stronger than many economists expected even as inflation has cooled down a bit more quickly.Taken together, the revised forecasts, the Fed’s statement and a news conference with Mr. Powell after the meeting could give the clearest signal yet about how close the central bank thinks it is to the end of rate increases — and what the next phase of trying to fully wrangle inflation might look like.“You’ve had many centrist Fed officials over the last few weeks say: We’re close to where we need to be — we may even be there,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan.Mr. Feroli thinks that there is a roughly two-thirds chance that policymakers will still forecast another rate move, and a one-third chance that they will predict that the current setting is likely to be the peak interest rate.But even if the Fed signals that interest rates have reached their peak, officials have been clear that they are likely to stay elevated for some time. Policymakers think that simply keeping rates at a high level will continue to weigh on economic growth and gradually cool the economy.Mr. Feroli does not expect officials to start talking too decisively about the next phase — one in which rates come down — quite yet.“They haven’t won the war on inflation, so it’d be a little premature,” Mr. Feroli said.That said, the economic forecasts could offer some hints. Fed officials will release their projections for interest rates in 2024, 2025 and — newly — 2026 after this meeting. In June, their 2024 projections had suggested that officials expected to lower borrowing costs four times next year. The questions is when in the year those cuts would come, and what officials would need to see to feel comfortable lowering rates.Policymakers may offer little clarity on those points on Wednesday, hoping to avoid a big market reaction — one that would make their job of cooling the economy more difficult.If stocks were to shoot up as markets broadly began to anticipate that the Fed-induced financial and economic squeeze was likely to come sooner, it could make it cheaper and easier for companies and households to borrow money. That could speed up the economy when the Fed is trying to slow it down.Already, growth has been surprisingly resilient to the Fed’s high rates. Consumers and companies have continued to spend at a healthy clip despite the many economic risks on the outlook — including the resumption of federal student loan repayments in early October and a possible government shutdown after the end of this month.Consumer spending has been stronger than many economists had expected even as inflation has cooled down a bit more quickly.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesLeftover household savings from the pandemic, a strong labor market with solid wage growth, and various government policies meant to spur infrastructure and green energy investment may be helping to feed that momentum.The resilience could prompt another revision to the Fed’s economic forecasts on Wednesday, economists at Goldman Sachs said: Officials might mark up their estimate of the so-called neutral rate, which signals how high interest rates need to be in order to weigh on the economy. That would suggest that while policy was restraining the economy today, it wasn’t doing so quite as intensely as officials would have expected.The economy’s staying power could also prevent policymakers from sounding too excited about the recent slowdown in inflation.Consumer Price Index increases have cooled notably over the past year — to 3.7 percent in August, down from 9.1 percent at their 2022 peak — as pandemic disruptions fade and prices of goods that were in short supply fall or grow more slowly.The Fed’s preferred inflation indicator, which is released at more of a delay than the Consumer Price Index measure, is expected to have climbed slowly on a monthly basis in August after food and fuel prices are stripped out to give a clearer sense of the inflation trend.The moderation is unquestionably good news — it makes it more likely that the Fed could slow the economy just enough to cool price increases without tanking the economy. But policymakers may worry about fully stamping out inflation in an economy that is still growing robustly, said William English, a former Fed economist who is now a professor in the practice of finance at Yale.If consumers are still willing to spend, companies may find that they can still raise prices to pad or protect profits. Given that, officials may think that a more marked economic slowdown will be needed to bring inflation the whole way down to their 2 percent goal.“The economy stayed stronger for longer than they’d been thinking,” Mr. English said. Given that, Fed officials may maintain that their next move is more likely to be a rate increase than a rate decrease.Mr. English is skeptical that Fed officials think they can cool price increases fully without more of an economic slowdown.“I doubt they are expecting, as their most likely forecast, that they’re going to get an immaculate disinflation,” he said. “I think that is still their base case: The economy really does have to have a period of quite slow growth.” More
Autoworkers walked off the job on Friday at three factories that produce some of the Detroit carmakers’ most popular vehicles, the opening salvos in what could become a protracted strike that hurts the U.S. economy and has an impact on the 2024 presidential election.Nearly 13,000 members of the United Auto Workers at plants in Ohio, Michigan and Missouri joined early Friday in what the union described as a targeted strike that could expand to more plants if its demands for pay raises of up to 40 percent and other gains were not met.The union’s four-year contracts with three automakers — General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep and Ram — expired Thursday, and the companies and the union remained far from striking new deals.The U.A.W.’s president, Shawn Fain, used sweeping language on Thursday to describe why his members were going on strike against all three automakers at the same time — something the union had never done in its nearly 90-year history.“This is our generation’s defining moment,” Mr. Fain, the union’s first leader elected directly by members, said in an online video. “The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching, and the U.A.W. is ready to stand up.”The union and the companies did not negotiate on Friday, but the U.A.W. said it planned to resume bargaining on Saturday. President Biden dispatched two senior administration officials to Detroit on Friday to encourage the companies and union to reach agreements.At a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich., west of Detroit, strikers waved placards — one read, “Record Profits; Record Contracts” — and gave thumbs-up to honking vehicles. A metal sign on a chain-link fence read, “Absolutely NO foreign cars allowed.” The protesters were assigned to a six-hour shift on the picket line. If the strike continues, they will be called to one shift per week.While first and foremost a battle between autoworkers and automakers, the conflict could have far-reaching consequences. A lengthy strike would reduce the number of new cars available for sale, which could fuel inflation and force the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates high.The U.A.W.’s president, Shawn Fain, center, at the walkout early Friday at Ford Motor’s assembly plant in Wayne, Mich.Cydni Elledge for The New York TimesA strike also presents a quandary for Mr. Biden, who has called for rising incomes but must also be mindful of the strike’s economic impact and his goal to promote electric vehicles as a solution to climate change.Speaking at the White House on Friday, the president strongly supported the union. “Over the past decade, auto companies have seen record profits, including in the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of U.A.W. workers,” he said. “But those record profits have not been shared fairly.”The U.A.W. says its pay demands roughly correspond to the increases in the compensation of the top executives at Ford, G.M. and Stellantis. The raises are also meant to help compensate workers for the ground they have lost to inflation and big concessions the union made to the automakers after the 2007-8 financial crisis, when G.M. and Chrysler were forced to restructure themselves in bankruptcy court.But auto executives say they already pay production workers substantially more than rivals, like Tesla and Toyota, whose U.S. workers are not unionized. The companies also contend that such big raises would undermine their efforts to develop electric vehicles and remain relevant as the industry makes a difficult and costly shift from gasoline cars and trucks to electric vehicles.If unions got all that they were asking for, “we would have to cancel our E.V. investments,” Jim Farley, the chief executive of Ford, said in an interview on Friday. Instead, Ford would need to concentrate on large sport utility vehicles and pickups that generate the most profit, he said.Ford, which employs the most union members, reported a profit of $1.9 billion in the second quarter, equal to 4 percent of its sales. Tesla made $2.7 billion in the same period, about 11 percent of its sales.Mr. Farley sounded pessimistic about the chances of agreeing on a contract soon. “They are not negotiating in good faith if they are proposing deals that they know are going to crater our investments,” he said.Mr. Fain’s decision to shut down just three factories is a departure for the union, which in previous strikes typically walked out of all the factories of a single automaker. By interrupting production of some of the most profitable vehicles, while allowing most plants to keep operating, the union hopes to inflict pain on the carmakers while allowing most of its members to continue collecting paychecks.But it may be difficult for the union to limit the damage to its members’ incomes. Ford told workers at a facility in Michigan, who were not on strike, to stay home Friday because of parts shortages caused by the strike. G.M. said it would probably lay off 2,000 workers at a factory in Kansas next week because of a lack of parts produced at the factory near St. Louis that is on strike.Fewer than 10 percent of the nearly 150,000 U.A.W. members at the three companies are on strike. Limited strikes could allow the union to maintain the pressure longer by preserving its strike fund of $825 million. The union will pay striking workers $500 a week and cover their health insurance premiums.Automakers have been earning record profits “because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of U.A.W. workers,” President Biden said at the White House on Friday.Anna Rose Layden for The New York TimesIn addition to the Ford plant in Michigan, which makes the Bronco and the Ranger pickup truck, and the G.M. plant in Wentzville, Mo., which makes the GMC Canyon and the Chevrolet Colorado, workers shut down a Stellantis complex in Toledo, Ohio, that makes the Jeep Gladiator and Jeep Wrangler. If no agreement is reached, the union is expected to target additional factories in weeks to come.The union is also seeking cost-of-living adjustments that would protect workers if inflation flares up again. And it wants to reinstate pensions that the union agreed to do away with for newer workers after the financial crisis, improved retiree benefits and shorter work hours. The union also wants to eliminate a wage system that starts new hires at much lower wages than the top U.A.W. pay of $32 an hour.As of Friday last week, the companies had offered to raise pay by around 14.5 percent to 20 percent over four years. Their offers include lump-sum payments to help offset the effects of inflation, and policy changes that would lift the pay of recent hires and temporary workers, who typically earn about a third less than veteran union members.In a last-minute attempt to keep assembly lines running, G.M. offered its employees a 20 percent raise late Thursday and said it was willing to pay cost-of-living adjustments to veteran workers. The 20 percent increase would be far more than employees had received in decades. But the union rejected the offer, which it says would barely compensate for inflation.Autoworkers striking at the G.M. factory in Wentzville, Mo.Neeta Satam for The New York TimesLeaders of the automakers have criticized the U.A.W.’s tactics, focusing on Mr. Fain, who became president in March and declared an end to what he said were overly friendly relations between union leaders and auto executives. He took office after a federal corruption investigation resulted in prison terms for two former U.A.W. presidents.Carlos Tavares, the chief executive of Stellantis, has called Mr. Fain’s strategy “posturing.” Mr. Farley of Ford said the two sides should be negotiating instead of “planning strikes and P.R. events.” And Mary T. Barra, the G.M. chief executive, said that “every negotiation takes on the personality of its leader.”If the autoworkers are successful, they could inspire workers in other industries. Union activism is on the rise: Hollywood screenwriters and actors have been on strike for months, and in August, United Parcel Service employees won their biggest raises ever in a contract negotiated by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.“Workers have been squeezed for too long and now are realizing they can do something about it,” said Mijin Cha, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies the relationship between labor’s interests and the fight against climate change. “People see there is a pathway to more economic security and workers do have power together.”Late on Friday, at an outdoor rally in downtown Detroit attended by several hundred U.A.W. members, Mr. Fain introduced Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, who told the crowd: “The fight you are waging here is not just about decent wages and working conditions and pensions in the auto industry. It’s a fight to take on corporate greed.”The strikes come as auto production is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic, which caused shortages of semiconductors and other components. Car prices and wait times have come down, but dealer inventories remain low and a lengthy strike could eventually make it hard to find popular U.S.-made models.“We’re not back to speed inventory-wise,” said Wes Lutz, the owner of Extreme Dodge, a car dealership in Jackson, Mich.Wes Lutz, the owner of Extreme Dodge in Michigan said, “We’re not back to speed inventory wise.”Brittany Greeson for The New York TimesScarcity is not always bad for carmakers. It allowed them to earn higher profit margins during the pandemic. And it would benefit any carmakers that were having trouble moving some models. Pat Ryan, chief executive of the car-shopping app Co-Pilot, said that Stellantis had at least 100 days of inventory for brands like Dodge and Chrysler, and that a strike could help it clear many dealers’ lots.Still, if prices for popular models rise, that will be yet another speed bump in the Federal Reserve’s road to lowering inflation, and a political liability for Mr. Biden. The president, who has no formal role in the negotiations, said Friday that he had been in touch with union leaders and auto executives, in addition to dispatching the two administration officials to Detroit.Reporting was contributed by More
The increase in poverty reversed two years of large declines. Median income, adjusted for inflation, fell 2.3 percent to $74,580.Poverty increased sharply last year in the United States, particularly among children, as living costs rose and federal programs that provided aid to families during the pandemic were allowed to expire.The poverty rate rose to 12.4 percent in 2022 from 7.8 percent in 2021, the largest one-year jump on record, the Census Bureau said Tuesday. Poverty among children more than doubled, to 12.4 percent, from a record low of 5.2 percent the year before. Those figures are according to the Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the impact of government assistance and geographical differences in the cost of living.The increases followed two years of historically large declines in poverty, driven primarily by safety net programs that were created or expanded during the pandemic. Those included a series of direct payments to households in 2020 and 2021, enhanced unemployment and nutrition benefits, increased rental assistance and an expanded child tax credit, which briefly provided a guaranteed income to families with children.Nearly all of those programs had expired by last year, however, leaving many families struggling to stay ahead of rising prices despite a strong job market and improving economy. Overall poverty now looks much the way it did in 2019, with the notable difference that financial hardship has declined among Black households, reflecting higher incomes in recent years.The Share of Children in Poverty More Than DoubledThe poverty rate for those under 18 rose to 12.4 percent last year.
Share of each age group living in poverty
Note: Data are the supplemental poverty rates, which adjust for geographic differences. The rates also include wage income, taxes and the fullest account of government aid.Source: Census BureauBy Karl RussellOne pandemic program that did not expire was a temporary freeze in Medicaid terminations, a move that allowed the program to cover more Americans than ever. Because of that program, the share of Americans without health insurance matched a record low last year of 7.9 percent. But states are unwinding that temporary coverage, and the uninsured rate has probably increased in recent months.The increasing cost of living added to the challenge last year. The poverty threshold, which is based on the cost of essential items like food and housing, rose sharply: A family of four living in a rental home was considered poor under the supplemental measure if the family’s income was less than $34,518 in 2022, up from $31,453 in 2021.Higher prices didn’t just hit the poor. Median household income, adjusted for inflation, fell 2.3 percent in 2022, to $74,580, as the fastest inflation since 1981 overwhelmed the impact of increased employment and rising wages.“People are working hard,” said Margaret O’Conor, who runs Common Pantry, a small food bank in Chicago. “They’re just not making ends meet, the cost of living is too much.” Rent in particular has soaked up a lot of people’s extra earnings.Common Pantry, like many food banks, had demand explode during the pandemic and then recede in 2021, when people received stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and the child tax credit, among other assistance. Then, as those programs lapsed, demand began to climb again.“2022 just threw us,” Ms. O’Conor said. “We were not expecting it. I don’t think any food pantry was really expecting it.”The White House, in a blog post previewing the report, argued that more recent data “tell a more optimistic story.” Inflation has cooled in recent months, while the job market has remained strong and wages continue to rise.The hot job market has had clear benefits for those able to take advantage of it. Many workers, especially in low-paying industries like hospitality and retail, experienced significant wage gains in 2022. Supersized unemployment benefits and other cash payments allowed workers to hold out for higher-paying jobs. Income for the poorest 20 percent of households — excluding tax credits and some other government benefits — rose 4.3 percent last year, adjusted for inflation. Income gains also outpaced inflation for the least educated workers.Those effects were more pronounced for women. The share of working women who were employed full time for the whole year reached 65.6 percent, the highest level on record — which also allowed real earnings to fall less for women than they did for men.The story was not as rosy for Americans over 65, for whom the poverty rate rose to 14.1 percent, despite an 8.7 percent cost-of-living increase in Social Security payments. Labor force participation among older people remains depressed, as many lost jobs and have had a difficult time re-entering the workplace.“People became more isolated, experienced significantly more health problems,” said Jess Maurer, the executive director of the Maine Council on Aging. “Older people had a harder time coming out of the pandemic, coming back into the community.”Inequality, as measured by the gap in pretax income between the richest and poorest 10 percent of households, narrowed, as most of the decrease in median incomes came from those at the middle and top of the wage distribution. Racial gaps also shrank, as white households lost ground to inflation, while inflation-adjusted income was little changed for other racial and ethnic groups.The “official” poverty rate — an older measure that is widely considered outdated because it excludes many of the government’s most important anti-poverty programs, among other shortcomings — was nearly flat last year, at 11.5 percent, reflecting the offsetting forces of higher prices and increased earnings of low-wage workers. By that measure, the poverty rate for Black Americans was 17.1 percent, the lowest rate on record.U.S. Poverty Increased Last YearThe supplemental poverty rate — which accounts for the impact of government programs — increased to to 12.4 percent last year, surpassing the official poverty rate, which was 11.5 percent.
Share of the population living in poverty
Note: The supplemental rate adjusts for geographic differences. It also includes wage income, taxes and the fullest account of government aid.Source: Census BureauBy Karl Russell“There has really been this resurgence in terms of the labor market fortunes of Black workers, particularly Black male workers,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “The most important element for people in my community is can we get a job, and if we can get a job, can we keep a job? And right now, both things look pretty darn good.”But those unable to work, or unable to work full-time, faced a one-two punch of higher costs and lost benefits in 2022 — problems that have continued this year. Increased federal nutrition benefits, one of the last vestiges of pandemic aid efforts, expired last spring. Factoring in the loss of benefits, real income fell for the poorest households in 2022, and inequality rose.“Tight labor markets are incredibly powerful, they’re really important, but they’re not sufficient,” said Elisabeth Jacobs, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.When a high-risk pregnancy forced Amber Summers to leave her job in rural Southern Illinois in 2021, the expanded child tax credit provided a lifeline. The $250 monthly payments helped cover her mortgage and allowed her son, now 9, to play Little League Baseball for the first time.“It was financial stability and stress relief for our family,” she said.But when the payments lapsed at the end of 2021, the family’s finances quickly unraveled — especially after Ms. Summers’s husband, Tim, contracted Covid and lost his job as a cook. And while both of them have since returned to work, neither is receiving full-time hours, and they are falling further behind on their bills. Opportunities for better-paying jobs are limited in their area.“The child tax credit helped pull our family out of poverty for such a short period of time,” Ms. Summers, 32, said.Congress passed the expanded child tax credit as part of the American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s pandemic-relief package, in early 2021. But while other Covid-era relief programs were always intended to expire once the emergency passed, supporters hoped to make the expanded child credit permanent.That didn’t happen. Faced with united opposition from congressional Republicans as well as some conservative Democrats, Mr. Biden dropped his effort to extend the program at the end of 2021; a renewed push failed again last year. The rise in poverty in 2022, social policy experts said, was the inevitable result of that decision.“Today’s Census report shows the dire consequences of congressional Republicans’ refusal to extend the enhanced Child Tax Credit, even as they advance costly corporate tax cuts,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.Correspondingly, the highest increases in poverty were in the South, where research has shown the child tax credit had the greatest effect, and among Alaska Natives and American Indians, for whom the poverty rate rebounded to 23.2 percent.Critics of the child tax credit and other pandemic aid have argued that the rapid rebound in poverty after the programs’ expiration is evidence that the progress made against poverty in recent years was, in effect, artificial. Michael Strain, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, argued that programs that offer incentives to work — such as the earned-income tax credit and the standard child tax credit — have led to more sustainable gains.“Yes, this alleviated child poverty, but it didn’t really do a whole lot to encourage self-sufficiency,” he said.Progressives take a different lesson: Government programs succeeded in lifting millions of people out of poverty. An analysis by researchers at Columbia University on Tuesday found that child poverty would have been nearly 50 percent lower in 2022 if the expanded tax credit had remained in place. The programs might also have had longer-run benefits, they argue, but ended before those effects could be seen.“The last few years just illustrated in an incredible way the power of effective government intervention,” said Arloc Sherman, a vice president at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive research organization. “The last couple years, through a plunge in poverty and what is now a record single-year increase in poverty in 2022, have shown that poverty is very much a policy choice.”Margot Sanger-Katz More
Wages are up, inflation has slowed and the White House has a new slogan. Still, President Biden’s poor marks on the economy are making Democrats worried.When a chant slamming President Biden spread from a NASCAR race to T-shirts and bumper stickers across red America two years ago, the White House pulled off perhaps its savviest messaging feat to date. Biden aides and allies repackaged the “Let’s Go Brandon” insult and morphed it into “Dark Brandon,” a celebratory meme casting Mr. Biden as some sort of omnipotent mastermind.Now, the White House and the Biden campaign is several weeks into another appropriation play — but it isn’t going nearly as well. Aides in July announced that the president would run for re-election on the virtues of “Bidenomics,” proudly reclaiming the right’s derisive term for Mr. Biden’s economic policies.The gambit does not appear to be working yet. Even as Mr. Biden presides over what is by all indicators a strong economy — one on track to dodge the recession many had feared — he is still struggling to convince most of the country of the strength of his economic stewardship. Wages are up, inflation has slowed, but credit to the president remains in short supply.Polling last month from the Democratic organization Navigator found that 25 percent of Americans support Mr. Biden’s major actions, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, but still think the president is doing a poor job handling the economy. It’s a group that tends to be disproportionately younger than 40 and is more likely to be Black or Latino — voters critical to Democratic victories.“This is the thing that’s vexing all Democrats,” said Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Center for American Progress.Democratic economists, pollsters and officials have a variety of explanations for why voters don’t credit Mr. Biden for the economy. Inflation remains elevated, and interest rates have made home buying difficult. There is also evidence that voters’ views on the economy are shaped as much by their political views as by personal experiences.And then there is the regular refrain that people don’t know about Mr. Biden’s successes. Even Mr. Biden’s supporters say that he and his administration have been too reluctant to promote their record and ineffective when they do.“I’ve never seen this big of a disconnect between how the economy is actually doing and key polling results about what people think is going on,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.Mr. Biden on Friday attempted another victory lap in a White House speech celebrating the latest jobs report, which found no sign of an imminent recession and a slight increase in the unemployment rate as more people sought work. He credited the heart of his economic plan, including investment in infrastructure, semiconductor manufacturing and climate-related industries along with caps on the price of insulin medication.Bidenomics, Mr. Biden said, “is about investing in America and investing in Americans.”Mr. Biden said his economic plan was to credit for the latest jobs report, which found no sign of an imminent recession and a slight increase in the unemployment rate as more people sought work.Kent Nishimura for The New York TimesThe term Bidenomics emerged as a pejorative in conservative media and has been widely adopted by Mr. Biden’s rivals. “One of the most important issues of the campaign will be who can rescue our country from the burning wreckage of Bidenomics,” former President Donald J. Trump said in a recent video, “which shall henceforth be defined as inflation, taxation submission and failure.”Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida offered his definition at a recent campaign stop in Rock Rapids, Iowa. “Bidenomics is basically: You have a lower standard of living so he can pursue the left’s ideological agenda,” he said.Behind the rhetoric, there is some debate over whether the economy will be the driving force it has been in past presidential elections. Some Democrats argue that their party’s resilience in last year’s midterm elections showed that the fight over abortion rights and Mr. Trump’s influence over Republicans can trounce more kitchen-table concerns.The White House argues that Democrats’ strong showing last year is a sign the Mr. Biden’s electoral performance isn’t strictly tied to the economy.“By all metrics, his economic record has improved since then,” said Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman.Still, nearly all of Mr. Biden’s campaign advertising this year sells his economic record. The ads — which don’t use the term Bidenomics — cast the president’s policies as a work in progress. “All of the things that Biden fought to get passed helped the middle class,” a cement mason from Milwaukee says in an ad the campaign released last week.“It’s no secret that a lot of Americans are struggling with the cost of living, and that’s a reality that shapes their views about the economy more broadly,” said Geoff Garin, a pollster who conducts surveys for the Democratic National Committee.Explaining why Mr. Biden’s policies will help, Mr. Garin said, “is what campaigns are for.”This summer Mr. Biden has promoted “Bidenomics” at events around the country, often speaking in factories or with labor groups. Even some in friendly audiences of local Democratic leaders and supporters questioned whether his emphasis would resonate with the coalition that elected him in 2020.“Is Bidenomics the right thing to sell?” Mayor Katie Rosenberg of Wausau, Wis., said after seeing Mr. Biden speak in Milwaukee last month. “I just keep thinking, why aren’t they just doing Build Back Better still? That was a really good slogan. Bidenomics is just an effort to capitalize on the negativity around him.”Build Back Better, the mix of economic, climate and social policy that Mr. Biden ran on in 2020, was a bumper-sticker-length encapsulation of Mr. Biden’s ambitions as president. Significant elements became law, but the branding exercise failed, doomed in part by rising inflation.Mr. Biden’s “Build Back Better” slogan was a bumper-sticker-length encapsulation of his ambitions as president.Hannah Yoon for The New York TimesDemocrats rebranded their climate legislation as the Inflation Reduction Act, even though the bill had little to do with inflation. Even Mr. Biden recently said that he regretted the name, suggesting that it promised something the bill was not devised to deliver.Though the rate of inflation has slowed, it remains the chief drag on Mr. Biden’s economic approval ratings, said Joanne Hsu, the director of Surveys of Consumers at the University of Michigan.“We track people who have heard negative news about inflation,” Dr. Hsu said. “Over the past year, that number has been much higher than in the 1970s and ’80s, when inflation was so much worse.”One theme of Mr. Biden’s aides, advisers and allies is to plead for time. The economy will get better, more people will hear and understand what Bidenomics means and credit will accrue to the president, they say.“The public more and more is going to be seeing low unemployment and will continue to get more bullish on the economy,” said Representative Robert Garcia of California, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. “But I also understand it’s very hard for people now. We just can’t expect overnight for people to feel better about the economy.”For most Americans, their views on the economy are directly tied to their partisan leanings — a phenomenon that is particularly acute for Republicans. In 2016, before Mr. Trump took office, just 18 percent of Republicans rated the economy excellent or good, according to a Pew Research survey. By February 2020, just before the pandemic shut down public life in America, 81 percent of Republicans said the economy was excellent or good.An Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll last month found just 8 percent of Republicans, along with 65 percent of Democrats, approved of Mr. Biden’s handling of the economy.Mr. Biden’s sympathizers say part of his problem on the economy is an unwillingness to promote its bright spots out of fear of seeming insensitive to Americans struggling with higher prices. Mr. Trump had no such restraint, describing the economy as the best in history and the envy of the world. Using “Bidenomics” as a framework lets the president take ownership of the economy, but it doesn’t exactly tell voters that the economy is great.“Trump chose people who were probably less experienced in terms of making policy, but some of them are quite good about talking up the president,” said Ben Harris, a former top Treasury official in the Biden administration who played a leading role in outlining the Build Back Better agenda during the 2020 campaign. “Biden’s taken a more modest and humble approach, and there’s a chance that’s come back to haunt him.”Jason Furman, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Obama administration, said there was a regular debate in that White House about how much to sell the public on the idea that the economy was improving even if people didn’t feel in their own lives.Now he said it was difficult for the Biden administration to take victory laps over slowing inflation because wages haven’t kept pace, leaving a typical worker about $2,000 behind compared with before the pandemic.“The way to think about that is people were in an incredibly deep hole because of inflation and we’re still not all the way out of that hole,” Mr. Furman said. “The fact that you protected people in the bad times means the good times don’t feel as good.”Nicholas Nehamas More