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    What Higher Interest Rates Could Mean for Jobs

    Layoffs are up only minimally, and employers may be averse to shedding workers after experiencing the challenges of rehiring.The past year has been a busy one for nearly every industry, as a reopening economy has ignited a war for talent. Unless, of course, your business is finding jobs for laid-off workers.“For outplacement, it’s been a very slow time,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president of the career transition firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. But lately, he has been getting more inquiries, in a sign that the market might be about to take a turn. “We’re starting to gear up for what we anticipate to be a normalization where companies start to let people go again.”Spurred by red-hot inflation fueled partly by competition for scarce labor, the Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates in an effort to cool off the economy before it boils over. By design, that means slower job growth — ideally in the form of a steady moderation in the number of openings, but possibly in pink slips, too.It’s not yet clear what that adjustment will look like. But one thing does seem certain: Job losses would have to mount considerably before workers would have a hard time finding new positions, given the backlogged demand.So far, the labor market has revealed some clues about what might lie ahead.Challenger’s data, for example, shows that announced job cuts rose 6 percent in April over the same month in 2021. While still far below levels seen earlier in 2020, it was the first month in 2022 to have a year-over-year increase, and followed a 40 percent jump in March over the previous month. Some of those layoffs were idiosyncratic: More than half the layoffs in health care in the first third of this year resulted from workers’ refusal to obey vaccine mandates, with some of the rest stemming from the end of Covid-19-related programs.But other layoffs seem directly related to the Fed’s new direction. Nearly 8,700 people in the financial services sector lost jobs from January through April, Challenger found, mostly in mortgage banking. Rising rates for home loans have torpedoed demand for refinances, while prospective buyers are increasingly being priced out.Theoretically, a Fed-driven housing slowdown might in turn tamp down demand for construction workers. But builders bounced back strongly after a dip in 2020 and have only accelerated since. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that the industry needs to hire 740,000 people every year just to keep up with retirements and growth. Even if housing starts fell off, homeowners feeling flush as their equity has risen would snap up available workers to add third bedrooms or new cabinets.“A big national builder that’s concentrated in a high-cost market, and all they do is single-family exurban construction, yeah, they may have layoffs,” said the association’s chief economist, Robert Dietz. “But then remodelers would come along and say, ‘Oh, here’s some trained electricians and framers, let’s go get them.’”The National Association of Home Builders estimates that the industry needs to hire 740,000 people every year just to keep up with retirements and growth.Matt Rourke/Associated PressAnother sector that is typically sensitive to the cost of credit is commercial construction, which sustained deep losses as office development came to a screeching halt during the pandemic. Nevertheless, cash-rich clients have plowed ahead with industrial projects like power plants and factories, while federal investment in infrastructure has only begun to make its way into procurement processes.“I think that lending rates might be less important right now,” said Kenneth D. Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. “An increase in either credit market or bank rates isn’t sufficient to choke off demand for many types of projects.”The tech sector, which feeds on venture capital that is more abundant in low-interest-rate environments, has drooped in recent months. Under pressure to burn less cash, some companies are looking to offshore jobs that before the pandemic they thought needed to be done on site, or at least in the country.“We’ve seen several of our clients in the high-growth technology space quickly shift their focus to reducing cost,” said Bryce Maddock, the chief executive of the outsourcing company TaskUs, discussing U.S. layoffs on an earnings call last week. “Across all verticals, the operating environment has led to an acceleration in our clients’ demand for growth in offshore work and a decrease in demand for onshore work.”In the broader economy, however, any near-term layoffs might occur on account of forces outside the Fed’s control: namely, the exhaustion of federal pandemic-relief spending, and a natural waning in demand for goods after a two-year national shopping spree. That could hit manufacturing and retail, as consumers contemplate their overfilled closets. Spending on long-lasting items has fallen for a couple months in a row, even before adjusting for inflation.If spending on durable goods declines sharply, “I could easily see that creating a recession, because suppliers would be stuck with a massive amount of inventory that they wish they didn’t have, and people employed that they wish they didn’t,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic policy arm of the Brookings Institution. “Even there, it’s going to be hard to know how much was that the Fed raised interest rates, and how much was the extraordinary surge in demand for goods unwinding.”In general, if the Fed’s path of tightening does prompt firms to downsize, that’s likely to be bad news for Black, Hispanic and female workers with less education. Research shows that while a hot labor market tends to bring in people who have less experience or barriers to employment, those workers are also the first to be let go as conditions worsen — across all industries, not just in sectors that might be hit harder by a recession.So far, initial claims for unemployment benefits remain near prepandemic lows, at around 200,000 per week. But some economists worry that they might not be as good a signal of impending trouble in the labor market as they used to be.The share of workers who claim unemployment, known as the “recipiency rate,” has declined in recent decades to only about a third of those who lose jobs. These days, any laid-off workers might be finding new jobs quickly enough that they don’t bother to file. And the pandemic may have further scrambled people’s understanding of whether they’re eligible.“One possibility is that people are going to think that because they haven’t worked long enough, because they switched employers or stopped working for a period of time, that this would make them ineligible, and they’re going to assume that they can’t get it again,” said Kathryn Anne Edwards, a labor economist at the RAND Corporation. (The other possibility is that the temporary supplements to unemployment insurance during the pandemic might have introduced more people to the system, leading to more claims rather than fewer.)One good sign: Employers may have learned from previous recessions that letting people go at the first sign of a downturn can wind up having a cost when they need to staff up again. For that reason, managers are trying harder to redeploy people within the company instead.John Morgan, president of the outplacement firm LHH, said that while he was getting more inquiries from companies preparing to downsize, he did not expect as large a surge as in past cycles.“Even if they’re driving down on profits, a lot of our customers are trying to avoid the ‘fire and rehire’ playbook of the past,” Mr. Morgan said. “How can they invest in upskilling and reskilling and move talent they have inside the organization? Because it’s just really hard to acquire new talent right now, and incredibly expensive.” More

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    For Tens of Millions of Americans, the Good Times Are Right Now

    Their houses are piggy banks, their retirement accounts are up and their bosses are eager to please. When the boom ends, everything will change.This is an era of great political division and dramatic cultural upheaval. Much more quietly, it has been a time of great financial reward for a large number of Americans.For the 158 million who are employed, prospects haven’t been this bright since men landed on the moon. As many as half of those workers have retirement accounts that were fattened by a prolonged bull market in stocks. There are 83 million owner-occupied homes in the United States. At the rate they have been increasing in value, a lot of them are in effect a giant piggy bank that families live inside.This boom does not get celebrated much. It was a slow-build phenomenon in a country where news is stale within hours. It has happened during a time of fascination with the schemes of the truly wealthy (see: Musk, Elon) and against a backdrop of increased inequality. If you were unable to buy a house because of spiraling prices, the soaring amount of homeowners’ equity is not a comfort.The queasy stock market might be signaling that the boom is ending. A slowing economy, renewed inflation, high gas prices and rising interest rates could all undermine the gains achieved over the years. But for the moment, this flood of wealth is quietly redefining retirement, helping fuel Silicon Valley and stoking a boom in leisure and entertainment. It is boosting corporate profits by unprecedented amounts while also giving just about everyone the notion that a better job might be within reach.More than 4.5 million workers voluntarily quit in March, the highest number since the government started keeping this statistic in 2000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week. A few years ago, the monthly total was between three million and 3.5 million.“Maybe it’s easier to focus on the negative, but a huge number of people, maybe 40 million households, have been doing pretty well,” said Dean Baker, an economist who was a co-founder of the liberal-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research. “You’d have to go back to the late 1990s to find a similar era. Before that, the 1960s.”This widespread wealth throws light on why the number of workers who say they expect to be working past their early 60s has fallen below 50 percent for the first time. It accounts for the abundance of $1 billion start-ups known as unicorns — more than 1,000 now, up from about 200 in 2015. It offers a reason for the rise in interest in unionizing companies from Amazon to Apple to Starbucks, as hourly workers seek to claim their share.And it helps explain why Dwight and Denise Makinson just returned from a 12-day cruise through Germany.“Our net worth has reached the millionaire level due to our investments, which was unfathomable when we were married 40 years ago,” said Mr. Makinson, 76, who is retired from the U.S. Forest Service.The couple, who live in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, have company. There are 22 million U.S. millionaires, Credit Suisse estimates, up from fewer than 15 million in 2014.The State of Jobs in the United StatesThe U.S. economy has regained more than 90 percent of the 22 million jobs lost at the height of pandemic in the spring of 2020.April Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 428,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.6 percent ​​in the fourth month of 2022.Trends: New government data showed record numbers of job openings and “quits” — a measurement of the amount of workers voluntarily leaving jobs — in March.Job Market and Stocks: This year’s decline in stock prices follows a historical pattern: Hot labor markets and stocks often don’t mix well.Unionization Efforts: Since the Great Recession, the college-educated have taken more frontline jobs at companies like Starbucks and Amazon. Now, they’re helping to unionize them.“I used coupons to buy things. One of my daughters would say, ‘Mom, that’s so embarrassing,’” said Ms. Makinson, 66, a registered nurse. “But we believed in saving. Now she uses coupons, too.”Denise and Dwight Makinson in their backyard in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Their net worth has reached the millionaire level.Margaret Albaugh for The New York TimesEvery economic transaction has several sides. No one thought home prices in 2000 were particularly cheap. But in the last six years, prices have risen by the total value of all housing in 2000, according to the Case-Schiller index. In many areas of the country, it has become practically impossible for renters to buy a house.This is fracturing society. Even as the overall homeownership rate in 2020 rose to 65.5 percent, the rate for Black Americans has severely lagged. At 43.4 percent, it is lower than the 44.2 percent in 2010. The rate for Hispanics is only marginally better.That disparity might account for the muted sense of achievement.“It’s a time of prosperity, a time of abundance, and yet it doesn’t seem that way,” said Andy Walden, vice president of enterprise research at Black Knight, which analyzes financial data.Shawn and Stephanie McCauley said the value of their house 20 miles north of Seattle had shot up 50 percent since they bought it a few years ago, a jump that was typical of the market.“We are very fortunate right now given the situation for many others during the pandemic,” said Mr. McCauley, 36, who works for a data orchestration company. “Somehow we are doing even better financially, and it feels a bit awkward.”Even for those doing well, the economy feels precarious. The University of Michigan’s venerable Index of Consumer Sentiment fell in March to the same levels as 1979, when the inflation rate was a painful 11 percent, before rising in April.Politicians are mostly quiet about the boom.“Republicans are not anxious to give President Biden credit for anything,” said Mr. Baker, the economist. “The Democrats could boast about how many people have gotten jobs, and the strong wage growth at the bottom, but they seem reluctant to do this, knowing that many people are being hit by inflation.”The initial coronavirus outbreak ended the longest U.S. economic expansion in modern history after 128 months. A dramatic downturn began. The federal government stepped in, generously spreading cash around. Spending habits shifted as people stayed home. The recession ended after two months, and the boom resumed.Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, recently warned that there were too many employers chasing too few workers, saying the labor market was “tight to an unhealthy level.” But for workers, it’s gratifying to have the upper hand in looking for a new position or career.“Both my husband and I have been able to make job changes that have doubled our income from five years ago,” said Lindsay Bernhagen, 39, who lives in Stevens Point, Wis., and works for a start-up. “It feels like it has mostly been dumb luck.”A decade ago, the housing market was in chaos. Between 2007 and 2015, more than seven million homes were lost to foreclosure, according to Black Knight. Some of these were speculative purchases or second homes, but many were primary residences. Egged on by lenders, people lived in houses they could not easily afford.Now the reverse is true. People own much more of their homes than they used to, while the banks own less. That acts as a shield against foreclosures, which in 2019 were only 144,000, according to Black Knight. (During the pandemic, foreclosures mostly ceased due to moratoriums.)The equity available to homeowners reached nearly $10 trillion at the end of 2021, double what it was at the height of the 2006 bubble, according to Black Knight. For the average American mortgage holder, that amounts to $185,000 before hitting loan-to-value tripwires. The figure is up $48,000 in a year — about what the average American family earns annually, according to some estimates.Even very new homeowners feel an economic boost.“We never had enough for a down payment, but then in summer of 2020, we got a good tax return, a stimulus check and had a little money in the bank,” said Magaly Pena, 41, an architect for the federal government. She and her husband bought a townhouse in the Miami suburb of Homestead.Ms. Pena, a first-generation immigrant from Nicaragua, likes to check out the estimated value of her house and her neighbors on the real estate website Redfin. “Sometimes I’ll check it every day for three days,” she said. “It’s been crazy — everything has skyrocketed.”In 2006, homeowners cashed in their equity. Sometimes they used the money to double down on another house or two. In 2022, there’s little sense of excess. One reason is that lenders and the culture in general are no longer so encouraging about that sort of refinancing. But owners are also more cautious.Brian Carter, an epidemiologist in Atlanta, said he and his wife, Desiree, had about $250,000 in equity in their home but didn’t plan to draw on it.“I was 27 in 2007 and watched a lot of people lose their houses because they couldn’t leave their equity alone,” he said. “That included my next-door neighbor and the family across the street. I don’t want to worry.”Those who take a boom for granted often get upstaged by reality. In May 2000, the entrepreneur Kurt Andersen said raising money for a media start-up called Inside was as easy “as getting laid in 1969.” That was a few weeks after the stock market peaked. Seventeen months and one merger later, Inside shut down. (Mr. Andersen clarified in an email that he did not actually have sex until the 1970s.)In 2000, the start-up downturn was the first sign of wider economic trouble. This time it may be simply that people are doing too well. “U.S. households in best shape in 30 years … but does it matter?” Deutsche Bank asked in a research note last month.Its logic: Households have more cash than debt for the first time in decades, which is theoretically good. But all that money is encouraging spending, which is propelling inflation, which is forcing the Fed to push up interest rates. The result: a recession late next year.Ashley Humphries, 31, feels prepared for most any scenario. Six years ago, she was a graduate teaching assistant making $12,000 a year. Now she earns a low six figures as a senior product manager for a parking app developer in Atlanta.“I’ve lived out some childhood dreams like dyeing my hair vibrant colors and seeing ‘Phantom of the Opera’ from the front row,” Ms. Humphries said. She got a dog named Kylo, put a bit of her income in the stock market and bought a Tesla. She just left on a Caribbean cruise. Two of them, in fact, one after the other.Ashley Humphries and Kylo. “I’ve lived out some childhood dreams,” she said.Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times More

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    Bank of England raises rates to 1 percent amid recession worries.

    As prices for energy, food and commodities rise after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the impact is being felt sharply around the world. In Britain, the central bank pushed interest rates to their highest level in 13 years on Thursday, in an effort to arrest rapidly rising prices even as the risk of recession is growing.The bank predicted that inflation would rise to its highest level in four decades in the final quarter of this year, and that the British economy would shrink by nearly 1 percent.“Global inflationary pressures have intensified sharply in the buildup to and following the invasion,” Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said on Thursday. “This has led to a material deterioration in the outlook,” he added, for both the global and British economies. On an annual basis, the economy would also shrink next year.The Bank of England raised interest rates to 1 percent from 0.75 percent, their highest level since 2009. Three members of the nine-person rate-setting committee wanted to take a more aggressive step and raise rates by half a percentage point. The Bank of England has raised rates at every policy meeting since December.Prices rose 7 percent in Britain in March from a year earlier, the fastest pace since 1992. The central bank predicts the inflation rate will peak above 10 percent in the last quarter of the year, when household energy bills will increase again after the government’s energy price cap is reset in October. Ten percent would be the highest rate since 1982.The rapidly changing landscape was reflected in the prospects for economic growth. In 2023, the bank now predicts, the economy will shrink 0.25 percent instead of growing 1.25 percent, which it predicted three months ago.On Wednesday, policymakers at the U.S. Federal Reserve increased interest rates half a percentage point, the biggest jump in 22 years, in an effort to cool down the economy quickly as inflation runs at its fastest pace in four decades. The U.S. central bank also said it would begin shrinking its balance sheet, allowing bond holdings to mature without reinvestment.On Thursday, the Bank of England said its staff would begin planning to sell the government bonds it had purchased, but a decision on whether to commence these sales hasn’t been made. The bank stopped making new net purchases at the end of last year after buying 875 billion pounds ($1.1 trillion) in bonds. The bank said it would provide an update in August.The outlook for the global economy has been rocked by the war in Ukraine, which is pushing up the price of energy, food and other commodities such as metals and fertilizer. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt trade and supply chains, particularly from shutdowns stemming from China’s zero-Covid policy. Last month, the International Monetary Fund slashed its forecast for global economic growth this year to 3.6 percent from 4.4 percent, which was predicted in January.The challenge for policymakers in Britain is stark. The Bank of England has a mandate to achieve a 2 percent inflation rate. At the same time, there is evidence that the economy is already slowing down, consumer confidence is dropping and businesses are worried that price increases will depress consumer spending, a key driver of economic growth. With inflation at its highest level in three decades and wage growth unable to keep up, British households are facing a painful squeeze on their budgets.Household disposable income, adjusted for inflation, is expected to fall 1.75 percent this year, the second largest drop since records began in 1964, the bank said. The central bank’s challenge is to slow inflation to ease the pressure on households and businesses without cooling the economy too much and tipping it into a recession.“Monetary policy must, therefore, navigate a narrow path between the increased risks from elevated inflation and a tight labor market on one hand, and the further hit to activity from the reduction in real incomes on the other,” Mr. Bailey said on Thursday.Weighing that alternative, policymakers figured that pressures on costs for business and prices for consumers would persist unless they took action. Companies expect to strongly increase the selling prices for their goods and services in the near term, after the sharp rises in their expenses, the bank said. At the same time, inflation could become more entrenched because the unemployment rate is low, forcing companies to raise wages to meet their hiring needs. More

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    Job Openings in U.S. Rose to Record in March

    A government survey released Tuesday showed a record number of job openings, with 11.5 million positions listed as available in March, underscoring the continuing strength of the labor market.The number of “quits” — a measurement of the amount of workers voluntarily leaving jobs — also reached a high, an indicator that many workers are confident they can leave their jobs and find employment that better suits their desires or needs.The data released by the Labor Department as part of its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS report, is a fresh indicator of the anomalous nature of the economy as it recovers from the pandemic recession. A resurgence of household spending and business investment is colliding with a messy reordering of the supply of goods and labor.Labor force participation has quickly recovered, nearing prepandemic rates, but has failed to keep up with the surge in job opportunities over the past year as business owners expand to meet the demand for a variety of goods and services.After a sharp climb last year, job openings plateaued somewhat. The March reading suggests that the decline in acute coronavirus concerns among experts and the average consumer — paired with the rolling back of public health restrictions and the start of the summer hiring season — is increasing businesses’ appetites for more workers. Layoffs and discharges remained uncommon, and relatively flat compared to the previous month, at 1.4 million.The Federal Reserve is raising the cost of borrowing as part of an effort to cool consumer spending, business lending and demand for workers. Markets expect the Fed to announce a half-percentage point increase in its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday.The State of Jobs in the United StatesJob openings and the number of workers voluntarily leaving their positions in the United States remained near record levels in March.March Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 431,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent ​​in the third month of 2022.Job Market and Stocks: This year’s decline in stock prices follows a historical pattern: Hot labor markets and stocks often don’t mix well.New Career Paths: For some, the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity to change course. Here is how these six people pivoted professionally.Return to the Office: Many companies are loosening Covid safety rules, leaving people to navigate social distancing on their own. Some workers are concerned.Andrew Patterson, a senior international economist in Vanguard’s Investment Strategy Group, argued this strong report from the Labor Department on the eve of the central bank’s rate decision gives officials “more cover to continue to raise rates” and remove its longstanding financial support of the economy “expeditiously,” as the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, has said in recent weeks.Overall, even in an environment of higher borrowing costs, the remarkably robust desire among businesses to expand their work forces could help economic activity plow through the twin challenges presented by inflation, which is at a 40-year high, and the discombobulation of global supply chains compounded by coronavirus outbreaks in Asia and war in Eastern Europe.“If there’s something that’s going to cause a recession, it will be from some outside, exogenous shock,” said Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, a group that analyzes world labor markets. “It won’t be household spending.”Anonymized credit card data collected by Bank of America shows that even households with an annual income below $50,000 have about twice the savings they did before the pandemic. Still, a Gallup survey released last week found 46 percent of Americans rated their personal finances positively, down from 57 percent last year, when families were freshly benefiting from rounds of federal aid and inflation remained tame.Employers have been rankled, too, complaining of labor shortages as millions of workers — energized by the discussion about “essential work” during the pandemic and buoyed by savings — experience a degree of bargaining power they haven’t had in decades.That has led to a tense, politically charged dynamic in which wage pressures are a broadening complaint among large and small businesses trying to maintain their profit margins, even though jumps in pay haven’t generally kept up with price increases.“We’re learning a lot about how structurally fragile our economy is,” said Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist. She cited a dependence on “endless low-wage workers and just-in-time supplies of goods” for keeping consumer prices depressed for many years.The employment cost index, which tracks wages and benefits, jumped by the most on record in the first quarter of this year, according to Labor Department figures released last week. Still, a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, concluded that roughly 54 percent of the overall increase in prices in the nonfinancial corporate sector since the second quarter of 2020 could be attributed to an expansion of profit margins, while labor costs were responsible for less than 8 percent of price increases. The analysis indicates that 38 percent of the uptick stems from nonlabor input costs, such as overhead, fuel or raw materials.That data complicates the increasingly popular narrative that the spikes in worker pay are mostly to blame for the severity of price increases, rather than a wider mix of reasons.“Normally, you’d expect profits to decrease during a period of high inflation,” said Tony Roth, the chief investment officer of Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors, an arm of M&T Bank. The reason the opposite has happened for many companies over the last couple of years is, he said, straightforward: “Businesses are doing it because they can get away with it.”The economy, while strong, may be locked in a vexing, self-reinforcing cycle for a while: The continued wave of household spending has often signaled to businesses that they had room to raise prices without consequence — allowing executives to hire more workers while maintaining profitability.Until more consumers balk at heightened price levels, it’s unclear where prices and demand will find an equilibrium.Mr. Roth said his financial firm, like most others, was advising clients to invest in companies that still had a large amount of “pricing power” — meaning that they can raise prices without dampening demand for what they sell, either because the good or service is particularly desirable or because it is essential to the buyers’ life routines or business needs. More

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    World Economic Outlook Dims as War and Pandemic Cast a Pall

    The International Monetary Fund’s new World Economic Outlook expects growth to slow to 3.6 percent this year. The group is one of many to slash their forecasts recently.WASHINGTON — The world economy has entered a period of intense uncertainty as a capricious pandemic and the fallout from Russia’s war in Ukraine combine to fuel rapid inflation and weigh on an already fragile global recovery.These colliding challenges are confronting policymakers and central bankers in the United States and Europe as they seek to bring down inflation without slowing growth so much that their economies tip into recession.In the last week, international organizations and think tanks have begun slashing their forecasts for growth and trade as they assess the war’s disruptions to global energy, food and commodity supplies, as well as China’s sweeping lockdowns to contain a renewed coronavirus outbreak.The pall over the world economy was underscored on Tuesday by the International Monetary Fund, which said in its World Economic Outlook that global output was expected to slow this year to 3.6 percent, from 6.1 percent in 2021. That is a downgrade from a January forecast of 4.4 percent growth this year.“Global economic prospects have been severely set back, largely because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, said at a news briefing on Tuesday. “This crisis unfolds as the global economy has not yet fully recovered from the pandemic.”The impact of Russia’s war on the global economy will be a central topic for policymakers convening in Washington this week for the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.As the meetings got underway, policymakers grappled with how to maintain pressure on Russia while keeping the economic recovery on track and protecting the world’s poor from rising prices. While some countries that export commodities will benefit from a period of higher fuel and food prices, for most economies the disruptions weigh heavily.“The war has made an already dire situation worse,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a speech about rising food insecurity on Tuesday. “Price and supply shocks are already materializing, adding to global inflationary pressures, creating risks to external balances, and undermining the recovery from the pandemic.”On Wednesday, Ms. Yellen plans to attend an opening session that will include Ukraine’s finance minister as the United States looks to stand with allies in opposition to Russia’s invasion, a Treasury official said. However, Ms. Yellen will not attend some Group of 20 sessions, such as those on international financial architecture and sustainable finance, if Russians are participating.Against that backdrop, the I.M.F.’s new data revealed a daunting set of economic headwinds. Mr. Gourinchas said the war was slowing growth and spurring inflation, which he described as a “clear and present danger” for many countries. He added that disruptions to Russian supplies of oil, gas and metals, along with Ukrainian exports of wheat and corn, will ripple through commodities markets and across the global economy “like seismic waves.”He acknowledged that the trajectory of the global economy would depend on how the war proceeded and the ultimate breadth of the sanctions that the United States and its allies in Europe and Asia imposed on Russia.“Uncertainty around these projections is considerable, well beyond the usual range,” Mr. Gourinchas said. “Growth could slow down further while inflation could exceed our projections if, for instance, sanctions extend to Russian energy exports.”Ukraine and Russia are facing the most dire economic consequences from the war. The I.M.F. expects the Ukrainian economy to contract by 35 percent this year, while Russia’s economy is projected to shrink 8.5 percent. Mr. Gourinchas noted that the Russian authorities had so far managed to prevent a collapse of their financial system and avoided bank failures but said further sanctions targeting Russia’s energy industry could have a significant impact on its economy.The sweeping sanctions that America and its allies have already imposed on Russia are the main factor contributing to the downward revision of the I.M.F.’s global growth outlook, Mr. Gourinchas said. He added that a tightening of restrictions on Russian energy exports would be an “adverse scenario” that would further slow output around the world.Rising prices around the world show no signs of abating, the I.M.F. said, even if supply chain problems ease. It expects inflation to remain elevated throughout the year, projecting it at 5.7 percent in advanced economies and 8.7 percent in emerging markets. Inflation hit 8.5 percent in the United States last month, the fastest 12-month pace since 1981.An empty street in Shanghai this week. The World Bank warned that the lingering pandemic and Covid-19 lockdowns in China could amplify income inequality and poverty rates.Aly Song/ReutersOther international organizations and research groups have also pared back their global growth forecasts. Economists at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank, expect global growth to decline from a rapid 5.8 percent in 2021 to 3.3 percent annually in 2022 and 2023.The World Bank also expressed alarm this week about the state of the global economy, warning that the lingering pandemic, Covid-19 lockdowns in China and higher inflation could amplify income inequality and poverty rates. It lowered its 2022 growth forecast to 3.2 percent from 4.1 percent.“I’m deeply concerned about developing countries,” David Malpass, the World Bank president, said on Monday. “They’re facing sudden price increases for energy, fertilizer and food, and the likelihood of interest rate increases. Each one hits them hard.”According to the Bank of International Settlements, more than half of emerging economies have inflation rates above 7 percent. And 60 percent of “advanced economies,” including the United States and the euro area, have inflation over 5 percent, the largest share since the 1980s, the bank said.In Britain, inflation climbed to 7 percent in March, the highest level in 30 years.An April 12 survey of global investors by BofA Securities found that more than two-thirds were pessimistic about global growth prospects in the months ahead.The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global EconomyCard 1 of 6Rising concerns. More

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    The US Economy Is Booming. Why Are Economists Worrying About a Recession?

    There is little sign that a recession is imminent. But sky-high demand and supply shortages are testing the economy’s limits.Employers are adding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, and would hire even more people if they could find them. Consumers are spending, businesses are investing, and wages are rising at their fastest pace in decades.So naturally, economists are warning of a possible recession.Rapid inflation, soaring oil prices and global instability have led forecasters to sharply lower their estimates of economic growth this year, and to raise their probabilities of an outright contraction. Investors share that concern: The bond market last week flashed a warning signal that has often — though not always — foreshadowed a downturn.Such predictions may seem confusing when the economy, by many measures, is booming. The United States has regained more than 90 percent of the jobs lost in the early weeks of the pandemic, and employers are continuing to hire at a breakneck pace, adding 431,000 jobs in March alone. The unemployment rate has fallen to 3.6 percent, barely above the prepandemic level, which was itself a half-century low.But to the doomsayers, the recovery’s remarkable strength carries the seeds of its own destruction. Demand — for cars, for homes, for restaurant meals and for the workers to provide them — has outstripped supply, leading to the fastest inflation in 40 years. Policymakers at the Federal Reserve argue they can cool off the economy and bring down inflation without driving up unemployment and causing a recession. But many economists are skeptical that the Fed can engineer such a “soft landing,” especially in a moment of such extreme global uncertainty.“It’s like trying to land during an earthquake,” said Tara Sinclair, a professor of economics at George Washington University.William Dudley, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, called a recession “virtually inevitable.” He is among the economists arguing that if the Fed had begun raising interest rates last year, it might have been able to rein in inflation merely by tapping the brakes on the economy. Now, they say, the economy is growing so rapidly — and prices are rising so quickly — that the only way for the Fed to get control is to slam on the brakes and cause a recession.Still, a majority of forecasters say a recession remains unlikely in the next year. High oil prices, rising interest rates and waning government aid will all drag down growth this year, said Aneta Markowska, chief economist for Jefferies, an investment bank. But corporate profits are strong, households have trillions in savings, and debt loads are low — all of which should provide a cushion against any slowdown.“It’s easy to construct a very negative narrative, but when you actually look at the magnitude of all those impacts, I don’t think they’re significant enough to push us into a recession in the next 12 months,” she said. Recessions, almost by definition, involve job losses and unemployment; right now, companies are doing practically anything they can to retain workers.“I just don’t see what would cause businesses to do a complete 180 and go from ‘We need to hire all these people and we can’t find them’ to ‘We have to lay people off,’” Ms. Markowska said. Economists, however, are notoriously terrible at predicting recessions. So it makes sense to focus instead on where the recovery is right now, and on the forces that are threatening to knock it off course.The State of Jobs in the United StatesJob openings and the number of workers voluntarily leaving their positions in the United States remained near record levels in March.March Jobs Report: U.S. employers added 431,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent ​​in the third month of 2022.A Strong Job Market: Data from the Labor Department showed that job openings remained near record levels in February.Wages and Inflation: Economists hoped that as households shifted spending back to services, price gains would cool. Rapid wage growth could make that story more complicated.New Career Paths: For some, the Covid-19 crisis presented an opportunity to change course. Here is how these six people pivoted professionally.Return to the Office: Many companies are loosening Covid safety rules, leaving people to navigate social distancing on their own. Some workers are concerned.Unionization Efforts: The pandemic has fueled enthusiasm for organized labor. But the pushback has been brutal, especially in the private sector.Growth will slow. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.Last year was the best year for economic growth since the mid-1980s, and the best for job growth on record. Those kinds of explosive gains — enabled by vaccines and fueled by trillions of dollars in government aid — were not likely to be repeated this year.In fact, some slowdown is probably desirable. The rapid rebound in consumer spending, especially on cars, furniture and other goods, has overwhelmed supply chains, driving up prices. Demand for workers is so strong that jobs are going unfilled despite rising wages. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said recently that the labor market had gotten “tight to an unhealthy level.”Some economists, particularly on the left, took issue with that claim, arguing that the hot labor market was good for workers. But even most of them said the recent pace of job growth was unsustainable for long.“We have torn back toward normal at a really fast pace, and it would be unrealistic to think that could continue,” said Josh Bivens, the director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. Even slower wage growth, he said, wouldn’t worry him, as long as pay increases didn’t fall further behind inflation.But some economists cautioned against rooting for a slowdown in a rare moment when low-wage workers were seeing substantial pay increases, and unemployment was falling for vulnerable groups. The unemployment rate among Black Americans fell to 6.2 percent in March, but was still nearly double that of white Americans.“The recovery from my perspective is fairly robust, and so why not enjoy this right now?” said Michelle Holder, president of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a progressive think tank. She said that while economists were right to be concerned about high inflation, “I don’t think similar voices were this bent out of shape about high unemployment.”A slowdown doesn’t have to mean a recession. (In theory.)Rush-hour commuters are returning to New York City’s subways. The United States has regained more than 90 percent of the jobs lost in the early weeks of the pandemic.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesThe key question for policymakers is whether they can cool the economy without putting it into deep freeze. Mr. Powell argues that they can, though he acknowledges that it won’t be easy.His argument goes something like this: There are 11 million open jobs and fewer than six million unemployed workers. There are more would-be home buyers than there are homes to buy, and more would-be car buyers than available cars. By gradually raising interest rates and making it more expensive to borrow, the Fed is hoping to curb demand for workers and homes and cars, but not by so much that employers start cutting jobs.That is a tricky balance, and historically the Fed has failed to achieve it more often than not. But unlike after the last recession, when the grindingly slow recovery seemed at constant risk of stalling out, the current rebound is fast enough that it could lose substantial momentum without going into reverse. Employers could slash hiring plans, for example, and still have jobs for practically anyone who wanted one.Some economists also remain hopeful that supply constraints will ease as the pandemic recedes, which would allow inflation to cool without the Fed’s needing to do as much to reduce demand. There are some signs of that happening: More than 400,000 people rejoined the labor force in March, as falling coronavirus cases and more reliable school schedules allowed more people to return to work.Aaron Sojourner, an economist at the University of Minnesota, said policymakers shouldn’t think of the economy as “overheating” so much as “fevered,” its capacity limited by the pandemic.“When you have a fever, you can’t perform at the level that you can perform at when you’re healthy, and you break a sweat even when you’re doing less than what you used to be able to do,” he said. Improvements in the public health crisis, he said, should allow the fever to break.A lot could go wrong.For much of last year, Fed officials shared Mr. Sojourner’s view, seeing inflation as a result of pandemic-related disruptions that would soon dissipate. When those disruptions proved more persistent than expected, policymakers changed course, but too late to prevent inflation from accelerating beyond what they intended to allow.The challenge is that central bankers must make decisions before all the data is available.It is possible, for example, that the imbalances that led to rapid inflation are beginning to dissipate, largely on their own. Federal aid programs created early in the pandemic have mostly ended, and many families have drawn down their savings. That could bring down demand just as supply is starting to catch up. In that scenario, the Fed could short-circuit the recovery if it acts too aggressively.But it is also possible that strong job growth and rising wages will keep consumer demand high, while supply-chain disruptions and labor shortages linger. In that case, if the Fed is too cautious, it runs the risk of letting inflation spiral further out of control. The last time that happened, the Fed under Paul A. Volcker had to induce a crippling recession in the early 1980s to bring inflation to heel.Mr. Powell has argued it is not too late to prevent such a “hard landing.” But even if a recession is inevitable, it isn’t likely to happen overnight.“I don’t think we’re going to go into a recession in the next 12 months,” said Megan Greene, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School and global chief economist for the Kroll Institute. “I think it’s possible in the 12 months after that.”Global turmoil makes everything more complicated. Soaring oil prices and global instability have led forecasters to lower their estimates of economic growth this year.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesWhen this year began, forecasters pegged February or March as the moment when major inflation indexes would hit their peak and begin to fall. But the war in Ukraine, and the resulting spike in oil prices, dashed those hopes. The year-over-year rate of inflation hit a 40-year high in February, and almost certainly accelerated further in March as gas prices topped $4 a gallon in much of the country.The pandemic itself also remains a wild card. China in recent weeks has imposed strict lockdowns in parts of the country in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus cases there, and a new subvariant has led to a rise in cases in Europe. That could prolong supply-chain disruptions globally, even if the United States itself avoided another coronavirus wave.“The biggest unknown is global supply chains and how we manage all of those because it’s contingent on Chinese Covid policy and a war in Europe,” Ms. Greene said.There is little sign so far that rising gas prices, stock market volatility or fear of Covid has damped consumers’ willingness to spend, or businesses’ willingness to hire. But those factors are adding to uncertainty, making it harder for policymakers to discern where the economy is headed, and to decide how to react. More

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    The Fed Bets on a ‘Soft Landing,’ but Recession Risk Looms

    Central bankers have been clear that they will do what it takes to control inflation. They are betting on a soft landing, but a bumpy one is possible.Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, emphasized this week that the central bank he leads could succeed in its quest to tame rapid inflation without causing unemployment to rise or setting off a recession. But he also acknowledged that such a benign outcome was not certain.“The historical record provides some grounds for optimism,” Mr. Powell said.That “some” is worth noting: While there may be hope, there is also reason to worry, given the Fed’s track record when it is in inflation-fighting mode.The Fed has at times managed to raise interest rates to cool down demand and weaken inflation without meaningfully harming the economy — Mr. Powell highlighted examples in 1965, 1984 and 1994. But those instances came amid much lower inflation, and without the ongoing shocks of a global pandemic and a war in Ukraine.The part Fed officials avoid saying out loud is that the central bank’s tools work by slowing down the economy, and weakening growth always comes with a risk of overdoing it. And while the Fed ushered in its first rate increase this month, some economists — and at least one Fed official — think it was too slow to start taking its foot off the gas. Some warn that the delay increases the chance it might have to overcorrect.The Fed has touched off recessions with past rate increases: It happened in the early 1980s, when Paul Volcker raised rates in a campaign to bring down very rapid inflation and sent unemployment rocketing painfully higher in the process.“There is no guarantee that there will be a recession, but you have high inflation, and if you’re serious about bringing it down quickly, you have to hike a lot,” said Roberto Perli, the head of global policy at Piper Sandler, an investment bank, and a former Fed economist. “The economy doesn’t like that. I think the risk is substantial.”It is no surprise that it can be difficult to cool down inflation while sustaining an economic expansion. Higher borrowing costs trickle through the economy by slowing the housing market, discouraging big purchases and prompting companies to cut expansion plans and hire fewer workers. That broad pullback weakens the labor market and slows wage growth, helping inflation to moderate. But the chain reaction plays out gradually, and its results can be seen only with a delay, so it is easy to lay on the brakes too hard.Understand Inflation in the U.S.Inflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Your Questions, Answered: Times readers sent us their questions about rising prices. Top experts and economists weighed in.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve announced that it was raising interest rates for the first time since 2018.How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.Supply Chain’s Role: A key factor in rising inflation is the continuing turmoil in the global supply chain. Here’s how the crisis unfolded.“No one expects that bringing about a soft landing will be straightforward in the current context — very little is straightforward in the current context,” Mr. Powell acknowledged during his remarks this week, adding, “My colleagues and I will do our very best to succeed in this challenging task.”Six of the eight Fed-rate-increase cycles since the early 1980s have ended in recession, though some of those were caused by external shocks — like the pandemic — and some by asset bubble implosions, including the 2007 housing crisis and the collapse in internet stocks in the early 2000s.Fed officials are hoping that today’s strong economy will help them avoid a rough landing. They point to the fact that labor markets are booming and consumer demand is solid, so lifting rates and tempering voracious buying might help supply to catch up and chill the economy without giving it freezer burn. Mr. Powell has argued that with so many open jobs per unemployed worker, the Fed might be able to slow down the labor market a bit without pushing the unemployment rate up.Loretta J. Mester, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said the Fed was not at a point where it had to decide between fighting inflation or pummeling growth.“Given where the economy is now, and where the risks are, to my mind the major economic challenge is inflation,” Ms. Mester told reporters on a call Wednesday. “I don’t see it as being a trade-off at this point.”James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said in an interview that he thought the fact that the central bank had credibility as an inflation fighter — and was raising rates to defend that credibility — could allow it to adjust policy in a way that allowed demand to moderate without causing major economic disruptions.A FedEx worker picked up packages in New York this month. After a year of rapid inflation, there is no guarantee that longer-term inflation expectations will stay in check.DeSean McClinton-Holland for The New York TimesIn the 1980s, when Mr. Volcker was the Fed chair, the central bank had to convince the world that it was prepared to wrestle inflation under control after more than a decade of rapid price gains.“Do whatever it takes — I guess that’s the mantra of the day. I do think inflation is our No. 1 concern,” Mr. Bullard said. “I don’t think, however, that it is a Volcker-like situation.”Near-term consumer and market inflation expectations have shot higher over the past year as inflation has hit a 40-year high and continued to accelerate, but longer-term price growth expectations have nudged only slightly higher.If consumers and businesses anticipated rapid price increases year after year, that would be a troubling sign. Such expectations could become self-fulfilling if companies felt comfortable raising prices and consumers accepted those higher costs but asked for bigger paychecks to cover their rising expenses.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More

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    Jobless for a Year? Employment Gaps Might Be Less of a Problem Now.

    People who were out of work for a while have typically found it much harder to get a job. The pandemic may have changed how employers view people who have been unemployed for months or years.Jamie Baxter used to be skeptical of job applicants who had not worked for long stretches of time, assuming that other employers had passed them over.“My mind would jump to the negative stigma of ‘Wow, why could this person not get a job for this long?’” said Mr. Baxter, who is chief executive of Qwick, a temporary staffing company for the hospitality industry.Yet recently, he has hired at least half a dozen people who had been out of work for several months or longer. The pandemic, he said, “made me open my eyes.”Mr. Baxter’s change of heart reflects an apparent willingness among employers in the pandemic era to hire applicants who have been jobless for long periods. That’s a break from the last recession, when long-term unemployment became self-perpetuating for millions of Americans. People who had gone without a job for months or years found it very difficult to find a new one, in part because employers avoided them.The importance of what are often referred to as “résumé gaps” is fading, experts say, because of labor shortages and more bosses seeming to realize that long absences from the job market shouldn’t taint candidates. This is good news for the 2.2 million people who have been out of work for more than six months, and are considered long-term unemployed, according to the Labor Department, double the number before the pandemic.But that change may not last if more people decide to return to the job market or if the economy cools because of another wave of coronavirus cases, experts say.Mr. Baxter, whose company is based in Phoenix, said he has learned from his own experience. Forced to lay off roughly 70 percent of his 54 employees when the pandemic hit, he realized he was responsible for creating the very employment gaps he had once used to screen out job applicants.“I knew I was creating employment gaps,” he said. “Maybe other people would have employment gaps for very justifiable reasons. It doesn’t mean that they are not a good employee.”Even in normal times, the long-term unemployed face steep odds. The longer applicants are out of work, the more they may become discouraged and the less time they may spend searching for jobs. Their skills may deteriorate or their professional networks may erode.Some employers regard applicants with long periods of unemployment unfavorably, research shows — even if many are reluctant to admit it.“Employers don’t often articulate why but the idea, they believe, is that people who are out of work are damaged in some way, which is why they are out of work” said Peter Cappelli, the director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.Some economists believe the pandemic’s unique effects on the economy may have changed things. Notably, the pandemic destroyed millions of jobs seemingly all at once, especially in the travel, leisure and hospitality industries. Many people could not, or chose not to, work because of health concerns or family responsibilities.“For people who were just laid off because of Covid, will there be a stigma? I don’t really think so,” Mr. Cappelli said. Although monthly job-finding rates plummeted for both the short- and long-term unemployed during the early part of the pandemic, the rate for the long-term jobless has since rebounded to roughly the same level as before the pandemic, according to government data. While that does not imply the employment-gap stigma has disappeared, it suggests it is no worse than it has been.That was what Rachel Love, 35, found when she applied for a job at Qwick.After Ms. Love was furloughed, and then laid off from her sales job at a hotel in Dallas last year, she kept hoping that her former company would hire her back. She had been unemployed for about a year when she came to terms with the idea of getting a new job and became aware of a business development position at Qwick.Interviewers did not press her about why she had been out of work for so long. “I hope now, just with everything going on, I think people can look at the résumé and look at the time frame and maybe just infer,” said Ms. Love, who began working remotely for Qwick in June.The tight labor market is almost certainly a factor. In October, there were 11 million job openings for 7.4 million unemployed workers.“The fact of the matter is, there are far more jobs in the U.S. than there are people to fill them right now,” said Jeramy Kaiman, who leads professional recruitment for the western United States at the Adecco Group, a staffing agency, working primarily with accounting, finance and legal businesses. As a result, he added, employers have had to become more willing to consider applicants who had been out of work for a while.Even when the worker shortage eases, labor experts express optimism that employers will care less about employment gaps than before, partly because the pandemic has made hiring managers more sympathetic.Zoë Harte, the chief people officer at Upwork, a company that matches freelancers with jobs, said there had been a “societal shift” in how companies understand employment gaps.“It’s become more and more evident that opportunity isn’t equally distributed, and so it’s important for us as people who are creating jobs and interviewing people to really look at ‘What can this person contribute?’ as opposed to ‘What does this piece of paper say they have done in the past?’” she said.That aligns with Burton Amos’s experience. After he was laid off from his job as a program support specialist with a federal contractor at the start of the pandemic, Mr. Amos, 60, started an online wireless accessories business and began studying for a career in information technology but was unable to land other work.On his résumé and LinkedIn profile, he was open about his lack of full-time employment, an approach that seemed to appeal to interviewers.“Every job did ask about ‘What am I doing right now?’” he said. “They didn’t specifically say anything specific about the pandemic.” He recently received multiple job offers and has accepted a position as a public aid eligibility assistant with the State of Illinois.Many companies have also redoubled their efforts on diversity and are more willing to employ people with a range of backgrounds and experiences, including applicants with long employment gaps.Scott Bonneau, vice president of global talent attraction at the hiring site Indeed, said employment gaps are “not a part of our consideration.” His company instead tries to evaluate a candidate’s skills and capabilities. That practice began before the pandemic, as part of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and it is a shift that he said he expected to see at other businesses.“I think there is the beginnings of a movement to stop focusing on employment gaps entirely at least in certain parts of the employment world,” said Mr. Bonneau, whose responsibilities include hiring people for jobs at Indeed.But other labor experts worry that the employment-gap stigma will return once the economy stabilizes.Employers may not be as forgiving of gaps on résumés that stretch into next year now that jobs, and vaccines, are more available, said Jesse Rothstein, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of California, Berkeley. The stigma may be more evident for lower-wage workers in industries where current job openings are especially high.“I would expect that to whatever extent that it exists, it will come back,” Mr. Rothstein said.History also suggests that the empathy that hiring managers may feel now will not last, said Maria Heidkamp, the director of program development at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.In a study released in 2013 by the Heldrich Center, a quarter of American workers said they were directly affected through a job loss and nearly 80 percent said they knew at least someone who had lost a job in the previous four years. Those levels would seem to make hiring managers more understanding of those who had lost their jobs because the experience was so common, Ms. Heidkamp said. “But that’s not what we saw,” she said.“The equation may play out differently” now, she added. “That said, I’m still worried.”Ben Casselman More