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INTERVIEWER: Right before Thanksgiving, Jay Powell talked to the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce in Rhode Island. Earlier this year, he would say things were--
JEROME POWELL: In a good place.
INTERVIEWER: But in Providence, he said things were--
JEROME POWELL: Generally good. The benefits of the long expansion are now, only now, reaching many communities. And there's plenty of room to build on the impressive gains achieved so far.
INTERVIEWER: You hear that? Generally good. That means things could be even better, and also, by the way, we could use a little help.
JEROME POWELL: For example, more than a decade of steady advances has pushed the jobless rate near a 5o-year low, where it has remained for well over a year.
INTERVIEWER: He's right. The Fed has a mandate for full employment. It could stop there, job done, nice work, but--
SUBJECT 1: What?
JEROME POWELL: The wealth of middle income families, that is their savings, home equity, and other assets, has only recently surpassed levels seen before the great recession. And the wealth of people with lower incomes, while growing, has yet to fully recover.
INTERVIEWER: So the Fed has shifted its focus slightly. The last several years have been great for getting people in prime age back into the labour force. Prime age is 25 to 54. If you're 55 and you still feel prime, I apologise, that is just how the Labour Department defines it. Anyway, this doesn't show up in the top line unemployment rate, but it's really good news. More people working creates more economic growth.
JEROME POWELL: For several decades, up until the mid-1990s, the share of prime age people in the Labour force rose as an influx of women more than offset some decline in male participation. In the mid-1990s, however, prime age participation began to fall. Fortunately, in the strong job market since 2014, prime age participation has been staging a comeback. But prime age participation could be still higher.
SUBJECT 2: Who is it?
INTERVIEWER: And right here, Jay Powell shows a little bit of what, by the unique standards of Fed communications, you could call attitude.
JEROME POWELL: The research literature suggests a variety of policies, beyond the scope of monetary policy, that could spur further progress by better preparing people to meet the challenges of technological innovation and global competition and by supporting and rewarding Labour force participation. Of course, the task of evaluating the costs and benefits of these policies falls to our elected representatives.
INTERVIEWER: Did you catch that? We are working, but we're on our own out here. You can increase Labour force participation by paying for training, by making it easier to go to school, by helping out with childcare or public transportation, but these things cost money and the Fed doesn't spend money on policy. That's not the Fed's job. So he didn't say it outright, but the message from Jay Powell in Providence is that, perhaps, Congress, you should consider showing up and helping out.