When the monthly jobs numbers come out Friday, many economists will say that the economy is healthy. Some will even say that wages are rising too fast and that steps need to be taken to slow economic growth. But out in the real world, working families and particularly communities of color are being left drastically behind in the recovery.
The disconnect between the rich and the rest of us is only widening, and that is a real problem when the rich are making the decisions for everyone. For higher wages and more robust employment growth, we don’t need to limit ourselves to the usual discussions and the typical solutions. Rather, we should look in a new direction, to the Federal Reserve, for the necessary policy changes that will usher in real growth on Main Street, not just on Wall Street.
Most people don’t pay much attention to what the Fed does and how it does it, but the reality is that the decisions the Fed makes affect us all, every day.
There are two important ways the Federal Reserve can help:
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▪ Ensure a monetary policy that delivers genuine full employment and rising wages for all working families. Raising interest rates in 2015 would be a catastrophic mistake. The American economy needs to see significantly more wage growth, not less.
▪ Provide a more transparent and inclusive approach to policymaking and governance. The Fed needs to listen to the voices of working families, not just banks and mega corporations.
Rampant and uneven unemployment can be measured in numbers, but it means that real-life opportunities fall further out of reach for working parents and that doors close on our children. It means that families are feeling the strain, and disenfranchisement is getting worse.
Permitting the economy to speed up significantly offers only upsides. A new report by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Economic Policy Institute finds that until nominal wages are rising by 3.5 to 4 percent, there is no threat that price inflation will meaningfully exceed the Fed’s low 2 percent inflation target. And such wage growth is necessary for workers to begin to reap the benefits of economic growth and to achieve a genuine recovery from the Great Recession.
Indeed, during the past three decades, it was only in the late 1990s, when the Federal Reserve permitted economic growth to speed up and the labor market to tighten, that workers across the economic spectrum, and in communities of color, saw genuine wage improvements.
As was true then, the Fed is not an innocent bystander in our economy, but an active participant. And yet, despite the clear economic disparities among our communities, voices inside the Fed are now saying that the economy is healthy and that the Fed should tamp down growth so that wages stop rising so quickly.
Although the board members that govern the regional Federal Reserve banks are legally required to represent the broad interests of the public, they mostly represent the financial sector or large corporations – they live very different lives from us, and they don’t take our experiences to the boardroom.
The Fed’s decisions are distant from communities that struggle the most in this economy and simply do not reflect the full diversity of the public it is supposed to represent. This explains why board members have produced an economy that works for them. Millions of working families are left with little hope of a better life.
It is no wonder that supporters of higher wages and fuller employment from across the country are turning up the heat on out-of-touch policies and practices coming from the Fed. Regular families should not be shut out the Fed policymaking process. Instead, they should be at the very core of it.
Kevin Rogers is the director of policy and public affairs for the advocacy group Action NC and a lecturer of political science at William Peace University in Raleigh.