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Joseph Stiglitz speaks with members of the Fed Up coalition at Jackson Hole last month. (Photo: Center for Popular Democracy/Facebook)

Avoiding 'Regressive Mistake,' Fed Holds Off on Rate Hike — For Now

'A higher interest rate means that fewer jobs will be created, and that the wages of workers at the bottom will remain too low to live on.'

Deirdre Fulton

Update 3 PM EDT:

In a decision that aligns with progressive demands, the Federal Reserve announced on Thursday that it would keep interest rates near zero in light of "recent global economic and financial developments" and in order to "support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability."

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issued the following statement today after the Federal Reserve announced that it would hold off on raising interest rates:

“It is good news that the Federal Reserve did not raise interest rates today. At a time when real unemployment is over 10 percent, we need to do everything possible to create millions of good-paying jobs and raise the wages of the American people. It is now time for the Fed to act with the same sense of urgency to rebuild the disappearing middle class as it did to bail out Wall Street banks seven years ago.”

 The New York Times reports that the Fed’s decision, "widely expected by investors, showed that officials still lacked confidence in the strength of the domestic economy even as the central bank has entered its eighth year of overwhelming efforts to stimulate growth."

Progressives cheered the news, with Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute saying, "Today’s decision by the Federal Reserve to keep short-term rates unchanged is welcome. [...] We hope they continue their pragmatic, data-based approach and allow unemployment to keep moving lower, and only tighten after there is a significant and durable increase in inflation."

He continued: "Tightening before the economy has reached genuine full-employment is not just a mistake, it’s a regressive mistake that would hurt the most vulnerable workers—low-wage earners and workers from communities of color—the most."

However, Reuters reports that "the central bank maintained its bias toward a rate hike sometime this year, while lowering its long-term outlook for the economy."

Which means that pro-worker organizations, which have largely opposed a rate increase that they say would slow the economy and stifle wage growth, will have to keep up the fight.

"We applaud Chair Yellen and the Federal Reserve for resisting the pressure being put on them to intentionally slow down the economy," said Ady Barkan, campaign director for the Fed Up coalition, which rallied outside the Federal Reserve on Thursday. 

"Weak wage growth proves that the labor market is still very far from full employment," Barkan continued. "And with inflation still below the Fed’s already low target, there is simply no reason to raise interest rates anytime soon. Across America, working families know that the economy still has not recovered. We hope that the Fed continues to look at the data and refrain from any rate hikes until we reach genuine full employment for all, particularly for the Black and Latino communities who are being left behind in this so-called recovery."


Progressives are cautioning the U.S. Federal Reserve against slowing the economy by raising interest rates "prematurely"—a decision the Fed will announce Thursday. 

The U.S. central bank will issue its highly anticipated short-term interest rate decision following a two-day policy meeting, with a 2 pm news conference led by Fed Chair Janet Yellen.

As CBS Moneywatch notes, "[t]he decision affects everything from the returns people get on their bank deposits to how much consumers and employers pay for credit cards, mortgages, small business loans, and student debt." That's because a higher rate makes it more expensive for individuals and businesses to borrow, with rising bank lending rates shrinking the nation's money supply and pushing up rates for mortgages, credit cards, and other loans.

Just before the announcement, the advocates, economists, and workers of the Fed Up coalition will be joined by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) at a rally outside the Fed, calling on the central bank to keep interest rates low to allow for more jobs and higher wages.

"The point of raising rates is to rein in an overheating economy that is threatening to push inflation outside the Fed’s comfort zone," explained Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. "But inflation has been running below the Fed’s target for years—and its recent moves have been down, not up."

Furthermore, wrote economist Joseph Stiglitz at the Guardian earlier this month: "If the Fed focuses excessively on inflation, it worsens inequality, which in turn worsens overall economic performance. Wages falter during recessions; if the Fed then raises interest rates every time there is a sign of wage growth, workers’ share will be ratcheted down—never recovering what was lost in the downturn."

Progressive activists opposed to an interest rate hike overwhelmed the Fed's public comment system on Monday in a last-minute effort to sway the central bank. Raising the rate, they said, would be catastrophic for working families, particularly in communities of color that are still struggling. The Fed Up campaign, which includes groups like the Center for Popular Democracy, Economic Policy Institute, and CREDO Action, say the central bank "privileges the voices and needs of corporate elites rather than those of America's working families."

"A higher interest rate means that fewer jobs will be created, and that the wages of workers at the bottom will remain too low to live on," wrote Rod Adams, a member of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change in Minneapolis, in an op-ed published Wednesday at Common Dreams. "That’s because when the Fed raises rates, they are deliberately trying to slow down the economy. They’re saying that there are too many jobs and wages are too high. They’re saying that the economy is exactly where it should be, that people like me are exactly where we should be."

However, at this point, "many observers believe the Fed will not raise rates this week," analyst Richard Eskow wrote on Wednesday.

"The Fed is really the central bank of the world. If the Fed raise rates a little bit, it will have an impact all over the world, particularly in emerging markets," billionaire private equity professional David Rubenstein told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Thursday.

"I think the Fed is sensitive to that," Rubenstein said, "and I think therefore the Fed is likely to wait for another month or two to get additional data and probably telegraph a little bit better than it has now that it's about ready to do it at a particular time."

Meanwhile, global markets are fluctuating wildly in anticipation of Yellen's announcement and subsequent news conference.

But as Eskow noted, Thursday's real surprise "is that there’s any question at all what [the Fed] will do. That suggests that our economic debate is not yet grounded in economic reality, at least as most Americans experience it."

While the Guardian is providing live updates on the Fed's decision, others are making comment under hashtags that reflect the unbalanced economic recovery:

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