Federal Reserve policymakers are debating how much more they need to raise interest rates to ensure inflation quickly returns to a normal pace, and that calculation is likely to depend heavily on the strength of the labor market.
Officials will be closely watching the employment report on Friday, the last reading on job growth they will get before their July 25-26 meeting, for an indication of how much momentum remains in the US economy.
Fed officials were surprised by the economy’s resilience 16 months after their push to slow it by raising interest rates, which make borrowing money more expensive. While growth is slower, the housing market has begun to stabilize and the labor market has remained abnormally strong with abundant opportunities and solid wage growth. Fed officials worry that if wage growth remains unusually fast, it could make it difficult to fully return high inflation to their 2 percent target.
That resilience – and the stubbornness of rapid inflation, especially for services – is why policymakers are expected to keep raising interest rates, which they have already raised above 5 percent for the first time in about 15 years. Officials raised rates in smaller increments this year than last year, and they skipped a tax at their June meeting for the first time in 11 meetings. But several policymakers have made it clear that even as the pace moderates, they still expect to raise interest rates.
“It may make sense to skip a meeting and move more gradually,” said Lorie K. Logan, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. while talking this week, noting that it is important that officials now follow through with continuing to raise rates.
She added that “inflation and the labor market developing more or less as expected would not really change the outlook.”
Fed officials predicted in June that they would raise interest rates twice more this year — assuming they move in quarter-point increments — and that the labor market would soften, but only slightly. They saw the unemployment rate rising to 4.1 percent from 3.7 percent currently.
Investors widely expect Fed officials to raise interest rates at their July meeting, and the strength of the labor market could help shape the outlook after that. While policymakers won’t release new economic projections until September, Wall Street will be watching how policymakers react to economic developments to gauge whether another move this year is likely.